Strong Shift in Balance

RIOC's 3 New Board Members, Some Early Thoughts

Updated 30 weeks ago David Stone
RIOC's shrunken Board listens during public session, May 2019. More seats will be filled soon.
RIOC's shrunken Board listens during public session, May 2019. More seats will be filled soon.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

A strong wave of relief over the strengths of Governor Andrew Cuomo's new appointments to the RIOC Board risks obscuring how radical this shift is, how fundamentally it changes how the State agency is likely to function.

Eight long years, the length of two terms in office, passed since Governor Cuomo last nominated a RIOC Board Member and had him approved by the State Senate. That was Sal Ferrara, then head of the Child School and a non-resident.

Some hell was raised locally, if for no other reason because Ferrara bumped aside Jonathan Kalkin, a respected resident, but he soon undid himself, disappearing from Roosevelt Island as completely as a visiting art exhibit at Gallery RIVAA, fleeing a never fully explained scandal within the school.

Then for eight years, Cuomo did nothing, turning a deaf ear on appeals from the community and elected officials. While Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright scrambled to take credit for pushing the Governor to act, the more likely motivation was that retirements and illness recently left RIOC barely able to pull together enough Board Members to function.

The existing Members, David Kraut, Howard Polivy and Michael Shinozaki, have been forced to increase their volunteer workload, each having to serve on virtually every subcommittee -- where the core work gets done behind the scenes -- just to create a quorum.

It's safe to assume that RIOC cooled in back burner land until panic set in. The hell with the radical demise of hard won democracy that allowed RIOC executives to act without enough oversight, destroying an Island institution, the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, and failing to take full responsibility for a contaminated water scandal obscured by false reports and stonewalling.

It wasn't all bad, of course, and good things have happened. On a daily basis, the Island's a safe, clean, smoothly managed community, and the range of infrastructure upgrades is refreshing after years of neglect.

So, what can we expect?

Change. This will not be your founding fathers board anymore. Some observations.

  • A shift toward the future comes when the three newest Board Members take their seats at the table. Not one is from the original WIRE buildings. Conway Ekpo lives in Southtown. Jeffrey Escobar and David E. Kapell make their homes in The Octagon. Balances in perspective will not be the same. How will the new and old Members get along? Nobody knows.
  • It escaped notice in early reports but a seventh Board seat remains unfilled. It's one of two that depends on a recommendation from the Mayor. The other is currently filled by Bloomberg appointee Howard Polivy. It's been that long since anyone reminded the Mayor that there's this sliver of Manhattan schist in the East River needing his attention, however briefly.
  • Also unnoticed is the fact, pointed out to The Daily by Frank Farance, that the three sitting Board Members were not renominated for new terms. This leaves them dangling. Cuomo can dismiss or replace any one of them without notice, their original appointments long expired.
  • In spite of Cuomo's outspoken support of women, his RIOC Board remains an all-boys club. The Governor has given us three successive President/CEOs -- Leslie Torres, Charlene Indelicato and Susan Rosenthal -- who are women but never a Board Member. 
  • In a radical switch from his predecessors, Cuomo failed to consult the community, unless you consider former Residents Association President Escobar a slightly off-point referral. That might be a good thing, deferring to competence over consensus, after the community -- at least the tiny contingent the connects with the Common Council -- was made to look foolish in a flakey and flawed nominating election, last year, one that Cuomo wisely ignored.
  • With the exception of Escobar, well-known from his many hours of volunteer service as both Vice President and President of RIRA, we can only guess at what the new Members will bring to the table at RIOC. Ekpo's experience in law and architecture -- he has degrees in both -- should add enormously to how real estate deals are handled. While some are concerned that Kapell's work during his public service in Greenport shows support for gentrification, if he's able to come up with one viable idea for juicing the sagging Main Street canyon, I'll nominate him for any prize available.

Moving forward, Kapell, Ekpo and Escobar have some time to ease into their responsibilities as summer's quiet for RIOC. After the June 27th full Board Meeting, they don't meet again until September 5th.

In the meantime, while we welcome the newest volunteers to step up for service on RIOC's Board, a thankful nod ought to go out to David Kraut, Howard Polivy and Michael Shinozaki, each of whom put in many extra hours and took the heat that comes with the territory for more than a year after the departures of Margie Smith and Fay Christian. 

They got the job done without personal gain, and based on each's record to date, we'll be lucky if they continue to contribute for years to come. 

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