Shuffling the Deck

Is a stronger, more effective Common Council emerging...?

Updated 22 weeks ago David Stone
Lynne Strong-Shinozaki (R) with influential Island Historian Judith Berdy.
Lynne Strong-Shinozaki (R) with influential Island Historian Judith Berdy.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Like other local government posts, those making up the Roosevelt Island Residents Association Common Council are up for grabs on November 6th. Unlike the others, the Common Council stands a chance of having real influence on how our community is run.

If you believe politicians named Seawright, Kallos and Serrano guard your best interests, rub your eyes until your vision clears. Even when not busy consummating marriages to the political status quo, they're engaged with more muscular forces within their constituencies than with the tiny piece of the pie known as Roosevelt Island.

All show up for photo ops, Roosevelt Island Day, groundbreaking for our new library, but when did any of them go to bat for us in anything of consequence?

Is a stronger, more effective Common Council emerging...?

Each grabs credit for things they had little or nothing to do with, the Ferry - a de Blasio achievement - or, of all things, the Second Avenue Subway.

But when did any of them take on RIOC when it counted, when their help might've made a difference? We're talking about turning screws here, not signing petitions, writing letters and monitoring things from a safe distance.

Roosevelt Islanders are political orphans, making the Common Council our most effective weapon in pushing Governor Andrew Cuomo's appointed overseers to think about community wishes, values and traditions when decisions are being made.

Westview's David Lawson, a candidate for Common Council Vice President.
Westview's David Lawson, a candidate for Common Council Vice President.
Photo courtesy of David Lawson.

In recent years, it's been extraordinarily weak as Cuomo maliciously allowed RIOC Board membership to dwindle by more than half while Susan Rosenthal and company defied community sentiment to destroy a 40 year old institution, take a hatchet to the environment and nearly wreck Westview's affordability effort.

The Common Council of recent years has been a shell of its once activist self. Tooling up important, feel god events like the Easter Egg Hunt and the Cherry Blossom Festival, all without the counterbalance of political activism.

A go along to get along with RIOC ethos damped interest and enthusiasm in whatever the Council was up to.

Candidates for top offices run uncontested, and only one out of all our building complexes, Island House, has been able to fill a full slate of representatives as others elected quit in frustration and/or boredom. 2 and 4 River Road go completely unrepresented, and in an inexplicable act of exclusion, the Common Council refuses to admit that Coler is filled with long term Roosevelt Islanders.

But in the past six months, something changed.

Change stirred when RIOC announced plans to invest $225,000 in Hudson's plans for a "Holiday Extravaganza," last November. The Common Council asked RIOC to invest the money in local arts organizations instead.

Typically for the Susan Rosenthal era, they were ignored.

A crappy, uninspired set of displays that left most of the Island uninvolved did little to soothe burned civic pride.

Island House activist and CERT member with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney on Roosevelt Island Day.
Island House activist and CERT member with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney on Roosevelt Island Day.
Photo courtesy of Frank Farance.

Objections to the RI Welcome Sign, recently opened in combination with wayfinding signs and kiosks, were similarly brushed off by RIOC.

As frustrations rose, a tipping point was reached when RIOC Parks Department managers arbitrarily launched a still unexplained attempt to evict the beloved cat sanctuary out of Southpoint. Finally, community representatives had had enough.

Island House Common Council Member Rossana Ceruzzi, founder of the Wildlife Freedom Foundation, operators of the sanctuary, was joined by others in protest.

The Council voted to denounce the move. Petitions circulated online and, as hard copy, at Roosevelt Island Day.

After sowing weeks of fear over how the protected cats would suffer if the State agency continued to refuse to supply water as summer heated up, RIOC finally backed off under pressure. 

The Common Council had a solid win.

An unintended consequence of RIOC's attack on the cat sanctuary was the discovery, by Common Council Alternative Frank Farance, that the State had loosed a potential public health emergency by connecting water fountains in parks and playgrounds to water unfit for human consumption in irrigation systems.

Again, the Council, led by Island Services Committee Co-chairs, Mickey Rindler and Ceruzzi, mobilized. With Council President Jeffrey Escobar's blessing, they demanded the RIOC explain itself in a meeting.

After six weeks of stalling, RIOC finally set something up, allowing only a restricted group to attend and excluding media from covering it. When it was later discovered that the State agency tried to pull a fast one, providing only partial information and misleading excuses without ever addressing the core issues, the Common Council served up a rare rebuke.

This brings us the current elections.

With Escobar, who received praise for roping in a fractious council and keeping meetings orderly, not running, the Council is poised to be lead by more activist officers. The field of members representing building complexes is less clear, but efforts are ongoing to recruit residents eager to contribute to the community's betterment.

Most likely replacement for Escobar is Lynne Strong-Shinozaki, whose many volunteer activities have earned her wide support.

Strong-Shinozaki served as Vice President in the last term and represents Roosevelt Island on Manhattan Community Board 8. Her activism carries with it a softer accent but no less conviction. 

The race for Vice President is shaping up as a study in contrasts between Island House activist Frank Farance, a one-time President, and a softer voiced David Lawson, a Westview representative since 2014.

Scott Piro, who recently won an wrestling match with RIOC over hazardous parking, is an Octagon resident expected to return as Secretary.

The Common Council

Ideally, the Common Council is made up of 44 community representatives distributed among buildings:

Southtown = 11
546 Main St. (1 Senior and 1 Disabled Resident) = 2
The rest of Roosevelt Landings = 7
Rivercross = 3
Island House = 3
Westview = 3
2 River Road = 1
4 River Road = 1
Manhattan Park (10-40 RR) = 8
Octagon = 5

But only 18 seats are currently filled, not counting four officers.

The organization clearly needs to make a convincing case for resident involvement to bolster its effectiveness and prove itself a real voice for a diverse community. That may mean the time's right for you to step up and make a difference. 

With the next Common Council gearing up to keep the pressure on RIOC, the time's right for residents who've stayed on the sidelines to get involved.

The task:

  • To represent the interests of its members to all governmental, quasi-governmental and private institutions that develop policy affecting Roosevelt Island and its residents; that supervise or manage our housing and that supervise or manage other Island operations; and
  • To ensure that the health, safety and welfare of its members and the quality of life in our community are maintained and improved.

All residents regardless of citizenship or voter registration are automatically RIRA members and, if 18 or over, welcome to run for any office. 

Click here to nominate yourself. It may be the best volunteer experience of your life.


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