When Ineffective, Claim Someone Else's Resuts

RIRA Common Council Steals Credit for Others' Work

Peter McCarthy
Under pressure, the DOE demolished the rat metropolis at PS/IS 217. The Common Council proposed scaring them with cats instead.
Under pressure, the DOE demolished the rat metropolis at PS/IS 217. The Common Council proposed scaring them with cats instead.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

When I saw that Aaron Hamburger had been handed the reins for this week's RIRA Column in the Main Street Mom's Bimonthly... er, WIRE, I wasn't as surprised by his taking credit for proactively attacking the rat colony at PS/IS 217 as I was that the Common Council fails to understand that honesty is the best policy.

It's a basic rule of thumb. When you try to claim credit for someone else's accomplishments, you're embracing your own failure. Kids, learning, do that. Healthy adults don't.

Aaron Hamburger, Chair of the Common Council's Island Services Committee had already contacted The Daily in an effort to claim credit neither he nor the Common Council deserved, couching it in a familiar lament about how we're not being fair to the group.

"You need some facts before you attack me and RIRA for doing nothing about the trash/rats situation," Hamburger began in a familiar refrain. "ISC has a rats control team led by Rossana Ceruzzi, Head of the Wildlife Freedom Foundation. Rossana is also our rodents expert."

The Facts about PS/IS 217's 250 Strong Rat Colony

Alarmed at seeing the public school's rat colony spreading into their building, aided by the custodial staff's mindless disposal of food waste, leaving a daily smorgasbord for hungry rodents on school grounds, concerned residents contacted Frank Farance.

Soon, Farance had disturbing photographs posted online at The Daily and the Roosevelt Islander. He shared them with the Parents' Network, RIOC and elected representatives.

Rick O'Conor, Publisher of the Roosevelt Islander blog, used his connections to encourage extended coverage in dna info's Upper East Side edition that led to local TV news coverage on WCBS 2 and WPIX 11.

Embarrassment over their inaction may or may not have been enough to motivate the school to act, but critical influence was brought to bear as RIOC's Susan Rosenthal brought a team to meet with school administration.

That meeting led to critical changes in behavior at PS/IS 217 that the school previously showed no interest in making.

  • Custodial staff altered careless procedures in garbage handling that lessened food waste available for the rats.
  • Responding to concerns raised by The Daily and incidental to the rat problem, Public Safety began enforcing rules about parking cars in emergency vehicle lanes. School staff, including Principal Mandana Beckman, routinely risked the safety of students and residents of Manhattan Park's Section 8 Housing by parking illegally in the lane alongside the school, their dashboards decorated with permission slips from Beckman.

At RIOC's next Board Meeting, Board Member David Kraut and Chair Rosenthal thanked Farance for making them aware of the rat issues at PS/IS 217.

"I didn't know anything about it until I heard about the rats from Frank," Rosenthal told me.

Within days of TV reports about the burgeoning rat colony and the Department of Education's failure to act, a bulldozer and crew suddenly became available to thoroughly plow it under.

Aaron Hamburger's Common Council Version

Scour Hamburger's RIRA Column to your heart's content, you will not see Farance, an alternative Council Member from Island House, mentioned even once. Not the Roosevelt Islander or news coverage either.

It's all about the Common Council's diplomatically stepping in.

For context, let's take a look at Hamburger's immediate reaction when Farance alerted the community that a rat infestation was boiling over at PS/IS 217:

"Thanks for bringing to our attention the rats and trash problem at PS 217," harrumphed Hamburger in a widely circulated gripe via email. "However, you are out-of-line. Yes, your e-mail should be sent to members of RIRA's Island Services Committee (ISC), but not to the rest of the 'world'.

"The problem at the school should handled by the ISC," Hamburger scolded. "If you want to join and work with our rats/trash team that's fine. But it's not fine that you sent your e-mail to people and officials not members of the ISC."

In short, the touchy Mr. Hamburger bitch-slapped Farance for alerting the community to an imminent threat without first kneeling before his committee.

Farance's effort, by all independent accounts, was the key to forcing the school to change its behavior.

But Not According to the Common Council

"We met in late May with the Principal of PS 271 and some members of her staff," according to Hamburger's creative storytelling. "Two days later we met with RIOC President Susan Rosenthal. A preliminary plan was discussed concerning various actions that would solve the trash/rats problem without using rat poison."

Hamburger never acknowledges Frank Farance or the Roosevelt Islander, the folks who actually flushed PS/IS 217 and its PTA out from hiding behind the former Main Street WIRE.

And this is the character that sends The Daily whining complaints about our being unfair to him. I'm not much of a believer in karma, but if I were...

Adding unintended comedic flavor to his self-promoting pitch, Hamburger stirs in a vigorous mix of thickheadedness:

"Rossana Ceruzzi, our rodent expert, proposed an alternate solution. She has offered to install and maintain a cat pen at the site with help from her volunteers and some students. This is environmentally friendly and effective. She and her wildlife organization maintain four sites on Roosevelt Island, which have demonstrated that cat pens are very effective. (Editor's note: Hamburger provides no evidence for this claim.)The smell of cats keeps rats away."

With all due respect to Ceruzzi, whose contributions to animal welfare on Roosevelt Island have been immeasurable, did it ever occur to Hamburger that "keeping rats away" from PS/IS 217 without exterminating them simply means sending them fleeing into Westview, Manhattan Park and beyond?

We believe that the mass slaughter of dozens of rats and the poisoning of others amounts to miserable abuse of animals guilty of nothing more than doing what they've evolved to do.

But neither Hamburger, on behalf of the Common Council, the PTA or the highly compromised Main Street Moms Bimonthly... excuse me again, I mean WIRE, ever mention that Principal Beckman's lax, inconsiderate neglect toward the school's neighbors forced this miserable crisis on the community.

Hamburger is unable to acknowledge that this should never have happened, let alone recognize that the rat colony continued to flourish until Farance stepped in, whether the Common Council liked it or not.

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