Who is Carmen Yulín Cruz, the San Juan mayor Trump blasted?
SAN JUAN — When Hurricane Maria destroyed the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, it turned the mayor of its capital city into a spokeswoman for a stranded people.
Carmen Yulín Cruz told the world of the “horror” she had witnessed in San Juan’s flooded streets, which she had been walking ever since the storm, on an island she expects to have no power for half a year.
Until then, she had not been a well-known politician outside the island, which many mainland Americans don’t even know is a U.S. territory.
But after Cruz criticized Washington’s response to the hurricane this week — “save us from dying” — President Trump decided to size her up on Twitter.
“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan,” he wrote Saturday. The Democrats must have gotten to her.
Since the president brought it up, we present below the historical record of the leadership abilities of Cruz, before and after the storm.
Cruz is, in some ways, a lifelong politician: class president in eighth grade, student council president in high school.
Like many Puerto Ricans, she left the island to pursue opportunities on the U.S. mainland, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science at Boston University and a master’s degree in public management and policy at Carnegie Mellon.
She stayed on the mainland for many years afterward, according to her official biography, and worked her way up to the position of human resources director at several companies, including Scotiabank and the Treasury Department.
In a 2014 interview with a small New York newspaper, Cruz described the tug of war between their home island and the mainland that she and other Puerto Ricans often feel.
“I often say to my friends that I felt too Puerto Rican to live in the States; then I felt too American to live in Puerto Rico,” she said. “So when I settled back in Puerto Rico in 1992, I had to come to terms with all of that.”
Cruz plunged back into politics after returning to the island after 12 years on the mainland.
She became an adviser to Sila Maria Calderon, then the mayor of San Juan, and who later became Puerto Rico’s first and only female governor.
With the experience she amassed under Calderon, Cruz ran in 2000 for a seat in Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives. She lost that race, but in 2008, she ran again and won.
“Politics is a rough game, and sometimes as females we are taught that you have to play nice,” she once said in an interview with City & State. “Sometimes you can’t play nice.”
As a race for mayorship of her home town approached in 2012, she waffled publicly on whether to enter as a candidate.
At first she denied any plans to run. Once she entered the race, she strung together a series of small coalitions to form her base of support. These included the LGBT community, students, Dominican immigrants and taxi drivers.
With such allies, she managed to beat her opponent — a three-time incumbent, Jorge Santini.
“People don’t realize they have the power,” she recalled in an interview years later. “People don’t realize that if they come together, there are more of them than those who occupy the seat that I’m in right now.”
Like many things on the island, Puerto Rico’s politics are largely defined by their relationship with the mainland and whether Puerto Rico should remain a U.S. territory or gain statehood.
Cruz’s party, the Popular Democratic Party, campaigns to maintain Puerto Rico’s status quo as an unincorporated U.S. territory with self governance.
In her trips to the United States since winning office, Cruz has given voice to that ideal — and occasionally advocated for more independence.
She once went before the U.S. Congress, to ask that Puerto Rico — crippled by debt — be able to reorganize under bankruptcy laws, and thereafter enter into commercial agreements with other countries.
“Puerto Rico has been denied these tools far too long,” Cruz said in 2015. “And as long as our options are defined by the powers of this Congress, we will always be at your mercy. The measure of our success will always be limited by the vastness of your control over our affairs.”
Two years later, Hurricane Maria made the island’s many dependencies all too apparent.
Hurricane Maria flooded roads, destroyed phone lines and Internet connections and cut the island’s overseas lifeline to the mainland from which it gets much of its goods.
With no way to communicate and almost no help from the outside world, the mayors of Puerto Rico became, in the days after the hurricane, the highest form of authority many residents knew.
Cruz worked nearly nonstop on the ground in San Juan — walking its streets and doing what she could for those she met. She described what she had seen to the The Washington Post three days after the storm.
“There is horror in the streets,” she said then. “Sheer pain in people’s eyes.”
The city’s hospitals were likely to spend weeks without power, she said, and the rest of the country would not have electricity until 2018. Looters were already taking over some streets after dark.
“We’re running out of gasoline,” Cruz said. “There is no reservoir of drinking water — none.”
She had written to scores of other mayors, she said. “There’s no answer.”
The mayor herself felt relatively helpless — only able to do so much for her exhausted neighbors and frightened constituents.
“I know we’re not going to get to everybody in time,” she said. But she would try.