In a column in the February 18th, Main Street WIRE, Common Council Member and head of the Government Relations Committee Joyce Short announced a vote to popularly nominate Members of the RIOC Board. (See Opportunity Knocks for Seat on the RIOC Board) Short wrote that all seven discretionary seats were up for grabs. Two ex-officio seats are set aside for the Commissioner of Homes and Community Renewal and for the Director of Budget.
While RIOC President Susan Rosenthal was clear that the State did not support or collaborate in any way with the elections, Short argued for them as a way of making Governor Andrew Cuomo aware of residents' preferences.
The planned election was suspect in several ways, but went forward with Common Council authorization. Short cited State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and Senator José Serrano, Jr. as being in support of this initiative.
"You’ll need to complete a nomination form and secure 50 signatures on the accompanying petition," Short wrote. "You’ll also need to be a US Citizen, be at least 25 years old, and have lived on the Island for at least six months.
"All nomination forms and accompanying petitions must be placed into the appropriate box at the Public Safety Office (at 550 Main Street) by no later than 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21."
The community showed little enthusiasm for the election, and in spite promotions in multiple Main Street WIRE issues, only five candidates volunteered to run, including current RIOC Board Member Michael Shinozaki who is married to Common Council Vice President Lynne Strong Shinozaki.
Any one of the men or the single woman who qualified for the ballot would, by default, win and still leave two of the alleged open seats without a recommendation.
Confronted with this reality, Short tried awkwardly to walk back her claim that all seven seats needed to be filled, but her reasoning was too strange to repeat.
Again, with the approval of the Common Council, Short proceeded anyway, holding a lightly attended candidates night in which all four hopefuls not currently on the Board appeared. On an interesting note, as reported in a video posted by the Roosevelt Islander blog, Board Member Margie Smith addressed the dozen or so attendees in support of Short's initiative. Smith herself is not on the ballot and said she would be happy to step aside for any of the candidates.
It is unclear if she was aware of the questionable behavior that followed or in agreement with it.
Without any further information being offered to residents or to the Common Council, ballots were printed and distributed to potential voters at polling places, yesterday and today. They include the names of all candidates previously approved through the nomination process but also added current Board Members David Kraut and Howard Polivy. Neither, according to Short's most recent WIRE column met the requirements to run. That is, neither turned in petitions with fifty signatures before the deadline.
Board Members Smith and Fay Christian were not on the ballot. No explanation was given for either action.
We asked Short, Common Council President Jeffrey Escobar, Vice President Lynne Strong Shinozaki and Communications Director Noah Keating to explain. Only Keating responded, and his answers showed that he had not been advised of the ballot changes.
I also asked Kraut, Polivy, Smith and Christian.
Kraut, RIOC's longest tenured Board Member responded to my inquiry: "I did not ask for my name to be on the ballot, and was shocked and surprised to see it there."Polivy's reaction was similar: "I was surprised to learn today, through Frank’s email, that I was included on the ballot." Neither Smith, who openly supports the vote, nor Christian answered. The one point that's clear is that someone added the names of two candidates who never filed nominating petitions nor agreed to run on the ballots. So far, no one has come forward to accept responsibility.