How the Mayor of San Juan Is Fighting for Her People

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Why you should care

After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico last year, Carmen Yulín Cruz challenged President Trump to step up. 

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One year after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory is still struggling to rebuild. Meanwhile, President Trump continues to deny that as many as 3,000 people may have died from the hurricane, despite Harvard research putting the death toll at more than 4,000.

After Maria hit last year, the people of San Juan saw their mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, spring into action. She trudged through waist-high water, bringing food and supplies to devastated neighborhoods, and lived and worked out of shelters with thousands of displaced Puerto Ricans for weeks.

She also put on her boxing gloves. “I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell,” Cruz said in response to the astonishing lack of aid the island received from the U.S. federal government in the wake of the hurricane.

Cruz has received a heavy dose of criticism for her candid words, but she’s fighting for the people of Puerto Rico — something she’s dreamed about since childhood. After attending Boston University for college and Carnegie Mellon for graduate school, Cruz felt a pull to return home and enter public service. When she ran for mayor of San Juan in 2012, she beat the three-term incumbent, Jorge Santini, by 6,000 votes, stunning everyone in the process.

Though her job has been a frequent uphill battle, Cruz says she’s fallen in love with being mayor. “The government is a platform for equalizing — for getting everyone to the starting line at the same time, with the same skills,” she says.

As Hurricane Florence touches down on the Carolina coast, the U.S. is waiting to see how severe the damage will be — and how the government will respond.

Cruz had to make a big fuss to turn America’s attention to the devastation in Puerto Rico, but she doesn’t think she did anything special. “I screamed for help when people were dying. I didn’t look the other way,” she says. “That should be what people do.”

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