Don't look this gift horse in the mouth...?

Watch out, Roosevelt Island! Rebecca Seawright has a gift for Us!

Updated 7 weeks ago David Stone
Rebecca Seawright greeting a constituent
Rebecca Seawright greeting a constituent
Photo courtesy NYS Assembly/Rebecca Seawright

"I'm here to help," a politician says, and you wonder, Help who and how? Rebecca Seawright wants to give us something for which most of us never asked or, as far as anyone knows, ever wanted. It might not fit. Worst of all, if it lands on your doorstep, want it or not, you can never give it back. It's yours. For life.

"The New York State Assembly took the lead of Rebecca Seawright and passed Assembly Bill 5481, implementing requirements for the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC). The legislation requires  that the next RIOC CEO be a resident of Roosevelt Island or become a resident within six months of appointment," read the announcement from Seawright's office on May 24th.

But there was a major problem.

5481 was introduced by Seawright, just a week before with this observation: "Roosevelt Island residents are deeply committed to their community but very disenchanted with its present governance. Presently, there are no residency requirements for RIOC board directors or for the President/Chief Executive Officer, who are entrusted with daily life operations on Roosevelt Island."

False Information Supports a Bad Idea

"...there are no residency requirements for RIOC board directors..." is a lie. Two governors back, Elliot Spitzer signed a law requiring that the RIOC Board be comprised of a majority of Roosevelt Island residents. How did State Assembly Member make a giant gaff like that on an issue so important to us?

Preparing an article on Seawright's initiative, I alerted her Chief of Staff, Katarina Matic, to the error.

Matic replied, "That is a mistake, thank you for pointing it out. If you can exclude that from the article you are writing, I can send you a statement on Monday."

Trusting fool that I am, I did exclude the mistake, as she asked, but Matic failed in her part of the deal. She never did send a note of correction. Was Seawright's office happy as clams to get away with supporting an important bill with "alternative facts?"

Apparently, they were.

An ominous passage in Seawright's announcement may explain why. We - Roosevelt Island residents - Seawright claims are "...very disenchanted with its present governance."

Who says?

I challenged this dubious claim in an email to Matic.

"AM Seawright has said, in justifying the RIOC residency bill, that residents are very unhappy with current governance. Can you provide the source for this information? We haven’t seen a survey of that nature in nearly 20 years. Where is she getting this information? Please, also, explain how the residency requirement will make governance better and sufficiently so that it justifies a drastic narrowing of field of candidates."

Matic's response: "Will you please send me your source, is there a quote you're referring to?"

When told that Seawright was my source, Matic answered with silence.

It's just so hard to defend the indefensible, isn't it?

Then, It Got Spooky

Ghosts or spooks or whatever you call them, slowly appeared out the mist of Seawright's grandiose "I'm here to help" missive.

"We worked closely with Senator José Serrano, the community, and the Roosevelt Island Residents Association Government Relations Committee to draft a bill that would support Roosevelt Islanders," Seawright explained.

RIRA, as most of us already know, is an irrelevant organization with weak links to the community. Usually, you don't care. Like, what's the harm? In this case, potentially, plenty...

But the real danger comes from Seawright's admitted dependence on RIRA's Government Relations Committee, the renamed Maple Tree Group that took over and subsequently wrecked the Common Council.

Among the GRC's recent triumphs was the disgraced RIOC Nominating Elections that proved, above all else, that ethics are no obstacle when it comes to the Maple Tree Group's continuing to force its agenda on the rest of us.

It's that agenda, now twenty years old and about as relevant as your 8-track tape deck.

The Maple Tree Group, Elitists with Stamina

As out of touch with residents as the MTG/GRC-controlled Common Council is, Assembly Member Seawright seems even more so, unwilling to look beyond the elitists' pretensions and doing no more than parroting the stale agenda.

The MTG started honestly enough, driven to action by the mean-spirited incompetence of Governor George Pataki's appointee, Jerome Blue, to head RIOC. A drive for increased self-governance made sense, then, as a counterpoint to Blue's efforts to convert the Island to an unrecognizable tourist destination.

But let's be clear. That was last century. Time has passed and circumstances changed. If the MTG stalwarts failed to keep up with a changing community, that's their business. But it should not be ours or Seawright's.

Seawright, however, seems to be under the spell of the same old divisive forces that have kept the community squabbling for a decade: Joyce Short, Sherie Helstien, Matthew Katz and Margie Smith. Helstien and Katz promised to submarine the Westview Affordability Plan, now stalled, although approved by a huge majority of their neighbors. And Smith and Short take credit for the immoral and clumsily handled RIOC nominating elections that drew all of about 10% of eligible voters after two months of heavy promotion.

Short, Helstien and Smith have all been recently awarded "Women of Distinction Awards" by Seawright, and if the Assembly Member had an equal interest in the men of her district, undoubtedly Katz would already have his.

The Maple Tree Group began democratically enough, with representatives from most of the then existing residential buildings, but over time, a group of elitists, mainly from Rivercross (including Dick Lutz who gave them cover in the WIRE) took control. Their philosophy was that, since they owned their apartments while the rest of us were lowly renters, they should have more say so in how the Island is run.

A big push was made to get MTG members and Rivercross residents on the RIOC Board, and it was somewhat successful, but greed took over as some of those members connived to profiteer mightily from Rivercross's Mitchel-Lama conversion, firing RIOC President Steve Shane, who opposed it, and bringing in Leslie Torres, who introduced a new era of corruption to RIOC. But she also went along with the Maple Tree Group's profiteering with Rivercross as a net loss to the rest of the community.

Icing on that cake: they also got Main Street retail turned over to Hudson, a deal that might have worked if more thoughtfully negotiated but that now features empty storefront after empty storefront.

A Sour Legacy Lives On

They say that old dreams die hard, but here's one that's worth killing.

The MTG founders' reaction Jerry Blue made some sense, even if their demands were never matched with any alternative plan or reasoning. Since then, even as better RIOC management brought peace to the community, if not to the Maple Tree Group, the founders continued with their dream of self-governance like spoiled children who can't adjust to the idea that maturity means compromise and learning to work fairly with others.

They can't even tell you what self-governance means or what they'd do better than RIOC already does for a community that is, by any measure, satisfied, contrary to what Seawright listens to from her intimates along Main Street.

Seawright, apparently too lazy to get to know the community, even trots out the old "no taxation without representation" bull that the Maple Tree Group peddled, as if they were the equals to our nation's founding fathers. And of course, the juvenile whining about democracy has been thoroughly debunked. 

It seems unlikely that Seawright has the savvy to shake off the group that's been feeding her information, and it's probably too late anyway. So, our best chance to destroy the spectacularly bad idea rests with the State Senate where José Serrano has already sponsored a bill matching Seawright's, and if that fails, we need to hope that Governor Cuomo is listening better than our legislators. 

Let's be clear. The problem with requiring the RIOC President to live here is that #1, it severely limits candidates. Let's face it. We love Roosevelt Island, but it's an acquired taste. And their is no evidence of any kind that residency guarantees better government.

Take a look at the Common Council, riven with personal agendas and unable to attract enough volunteers to fill all the seats available. The Common Council has taken disinterest all the way up to annoying boredom.

There may one day be a coherent plan that makes sense of the ideal of local control, more power than any other community in the City has, but we haven't seen it yet. All we've seen so far is a sleight of hand empowered by buzz words but no plan, no details, no coherent vision.

Seawright bought it. Let's hope she's the last with enough authority to damage our thriving community to do so.

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