2018 Was Worse But It's Small Consolation

Seniors Drubbed in Bid for Public Purpose Funds Again

Updated 11 weeks ago David Stone
What CBN does: Ribbon-cutting for Sewing Program, sponsored by Ravenswood Power Plant.
What CBN does: Ribbon-cutting for Sewing Program, sponsored by Ravenswood Power Plant.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Seniors got drubbed in the scramble for Public Purpose Funds again this year. The best you can say about the insult tossed at them by RIOC and the Common Council is that 2018 was worse. True, the attack was aimed at the Carter Burden Network, but Roosevelt Island seniors are the main beneficiaries.

Perspective: How Bad Is It for Funding Seniors Through RIOC and the Common Council?

Note: Because RIOC and especially the Common Council say they're not familiar with what CBN does at the Senior Center, we're offering some visual samples throughout this article, not including popular exercise programs which we've covered at The Daily several times.

If you start with the egalitarian idea that seniors ought to share equally in limited public purpose funds available, the rebuff is stark, and for this community, it’s embarrassing.

According to the last census, seniors account for just under 20% of Roosevelt Island’s population. But public purpose funds granted to the Carter Burden Network, managers of the Senior Center and the only group catering exclusively to seniors, total just 6.7% — $10,000 — of the $150,000 available through Common Council recommendations.

What CBN does: Congressional candidate Suraj Patel was invited to talk with seniors.
What CBN does: Congressional candidate Suraj Patel was invited to talk with seniors.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Residents under 18 will get $36,750, more than triple seniors, from grants to three groups, Island Kids, LifeFrames and PS/IS 217 PTA.

But the situation is far worse than that.

The swift kicks in the pants for seniors comes with a whack on the head.

The Common Council grants are only a fraction of what RIOC is allowed under State law.

RIOC’s generosity extends to other recipients with grants in kind and hard cash. 

The Garden Club, for example, is generously given valuable space without charge, and that’s budgeted under the allowance for public purpose grants.

The Garden Club is not alone.

Bottom line — seniors get something in the microscopic vicinity under 3%.

Thank you, Common Council. Thank you, RIOC.

What CBN does: A relaxing, healthful garden spot set aside for seniors.
What CBN does: A relaxing, healthful garden spot set aside for seniors.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Sadly, there’s more. Or, I should say, worse.

Kids also get hundreds of thousands invested in the Youth Center, an amount exceeding what the Senior Center gets from primary funding source, the Department for the Aging, and RIOC combined.

How about some special sauce?

RIOC also gives the PTA, without competition, rights to collect funds from all vendors at the Farmers Market. All they’re required to do is walk around and pick up the dough. RIOC contributes any necessary work to keep the market going.

Let’s be clear. 

Seniors get screwed, and the consolation that they got it worse last year is so much dust in a windstorm.

What CBN does: Volunteers, including director Lisa Fernandez, serve free meals to the needy on holidays.
What CBN does: Volunteers, including director Lisa Fernandez, serve free meals to the needy on holidays.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Why does this happen?

It starts with RIOC’s unwise, gutless off-loading of responsibility, handing decision-making over to an unqualified, prejudice-ridden Common Council. 

David Kraut, RIOC’s longest tenured Board Member, explained it at June’s Meeting. 

RIOC made this choice years ago, taking allocation of funds out of the hands of a single RIOC employee, hoping the Council would be more objective and better informed.

That may have been reasonable then. Who knows? But in the reality of 2019 — not the nostalgia of the 1990s, when Kraut himself led a far better Common Council — it’s ridiculous.

The Common Council forms a committee to review applications, but there’s no guarantee that it’s any more fair or objective than the old one-employee action. 

In fact, it’s made up of mainly the same folks who slapped seniors so rudely last year RIOC President Susan Rosenthal stepped in for a rescue.

Not one of them participates in any Senior Center activities, even as an observer, according to CBN managers.

What CBN does: Free art classes for seniors result in art salons throughout the year.
What CBN does: Free art classes for seniors result in art salons throughout the year.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

In case you’re wondering if there’s any criteria for evaluating grant requests, there is, but they’re essentially arbitrary judgment calls. The process yields arbitrary results.

A legacy of resentful locals’ malicious gossiping about the “outsiders,” a first time Public Purpose Committee member, last year, told The Daily that others on the Council informed him that CBN was “ripping off the community.” He was otherwise unfamiliar with the organization.

The committee was and is as contaminated with personal agendas and local bias as the Common Council in general.

Fair indeed. 

The simple fact is, as we’ve explained several times and as RIOC ought to know, the Common Council does not represent the community and hasn’t for the decade since the Maple Tree Group took over in a bid to reward Rivercross residents with windfall profits in its Mitchell Lama exit.

The Council was crippled and has only intermittently — not at all in the last five years — been an effective community advocate. 

Competence is at an all-time low. 

What CBN does: The place to go for isolated seniors and others to find companionship and free meals on holidays.
What CBN does: The place to go for isolated seniors and others to find companionship and free meals on holidays.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Anyone objectively observing the debacle before, during and after the Cherry Blossom Festival who still believes the group should handle critical community responsibilities isn’t thinking straight.

Why the Common Council doesn’t represent the community, especially seniors…

In not one of the last five elections, spanning a decade, has the Common Council recruited enough candidates to fill the seats distributed among housing complexes. Voting on President has not been competitive in since the Maple Tree Group fielded Matthew Katz in a push to oust Frank Farance, a vocal opponent of its agenda. 

Out of roughly 9,000 available adults, the Common Council can’t scare up 44 volunteers because they are not engaged in the community.

The Common Council’s such a do-nothing advocacy organization that it clings to bragging rights for organizing (badly) the Cherry Blossom Festival and an annual blood drive for relevance. Neither are legislative or politically active functions nor are they activities other groups couldn’t manage as well or better.

Here’s something to ponder — who is your Common Council representative and what is s/he doing to help you? Hardly anyone can answer either question.

It’s a joke. Not the funny kind. And it’s worse for seniors.

Why is it worse for Roosevelt Island seniors?

The Common Council can’t recruit enough volunteers to serve as representatives, let alone run competitively, and that’s thrown into sharp focus by the fact that not a single individual represents 546 Main Street, the traditional seniors building. No one even ran in the last so-called election. 

The Common Council does not represent the community in general; seniors, not at  all.

And that’s where RIOC off-loads responsibility for recommending public purpose grants, then wraps them in an embrace as if they really are fair, honest and responsible.

Seniors got stiffed again. It should come as no surprise.

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