RIRA: Do We Want a Say in Who Governs Us?

April 8, 2017

Jeffrey Escobar, President
Roosevelt Island Residents Association
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A little over a year ago, by a 12th-hour edict from the governor’s office, our current Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) president, chief financial officer, and vice-president for operations were quietly appointed with little notice and no input from us. As we had noted in this column at that time:

“It is difficult, as leaders of the Island, to support such appointments when no vetting by those whose lives will be affected by these officers – namely us, as Island residents – was involved. The Island and its RIOC Board members were not even given the decency of a choice of candidates, much less notice that the three top executive offices of RIOC were to be vacated and replaced (much less the reasons why). The governor’s message to the RIOC Board that its votes and decisions no longer matter without the governor’s consent was laid clear with these recent appointments: the many years of progress that Islanders have fought not to have Roosevelt Island be ruled by fiat have been rolled back. The only question as Islanders is whether we should choose to accept it.”

Luckily, President Susan Rosenthal, CFO Kimberly Quinones, and Vice-President of Operations Shelton Haynes have proven to be trustworthy stewards and active partners in all that we and other Island organizations do on the Island, and have been receptive and responsive to Island residents’ concerns and issues.

We may not be so lucky when it comes to future appointments to the RIOC Board. As we have noted, and as further explained in the Island Observer column, all of the current RIOC Board seats have expired. Our neighbors who currently hold those seats and are residents, such as Margie Smith, Howard Polivy, Faye Christianson, and Michael Shinozaki, potentially stand to lose their place on the Board. Subsequently, we face the prospect of having non-residents being seated who will have direct control over the Island’s operations and governance.

As Roosevelt Islanders, we tend to have short memories. Not long ago, it was rote business for individuals who have no connection to the Island and no vested interest in its citizens to be appointed by the-powers-that-be in Albany to govern our Island. Has it been so long that we’ve forgotten the 12th-hour appointment of Sal Ferrara, a resident of Brooklyn who wanted to have our current playing fields converted to horse barns?

Whether you agree with RIRA, its mission, or its purpose; as an Islander who also cares about the greater good of our community, you must agree that we, as a community, should have some say over the pool of candidates the Governor may choose from when considering the future of the RIOC Board. This is why RIRA and its Government Relations Committee are holding a RIOC election of possible Board candidates.

So, how do we, as a community, bring our message to the governor and Albany that, as Island residents, we want our RIOC Board to be comprised of Island residents who are our neighbors, family, and friends, who have a vested interest in this Island’s future and us as a community?

The first step is to participate in this month’s election where you will have the opportunity to vote for who should sit on the Board. (See the Island Observer column by Joyce Short, RIRA Government Relations Chair.)

Come to Candidates’ Night, on April 12th at the Senior Center at 6:30 p.m., to meet the current candidates: Brian Bower, Marc Block, Eduardo Jany, Mike Shinozaki and Lydia Tang.

Volunteer to help with the election by attending the Volunteers’ Meeting on April 13 at 6:30 pm. at the Senior Center. And come out to vote on April 17 and April 18. Encourage your neighbors to also come out and vote. Let’s send a strong message to the governor that we want our RIOC Board to continue to reflect and be populated by us, Island residents. It simply would be irresponsible of us, as an Island community vested in its future, to fail to do so.

Cherry Blossom Festival

The arrival of spring means the arrival of the annual RIRA Cherry Blossom Festival, and this year’s event will be happening on Saturday, April 29 from 12–5 p.m. This year’s festivities will be held at Four Freedoms Park.

First started in 2011, in response to the tragic earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, the RIRA Cherry Blossom Festival has grown to be a cherished annual Island event to celebrate spring, and will include a variety of Japanese musical performances, a martial arts demonstration, dance artists, a traditional Tea Ceremony, and picnicking with neighbors in Southpoint Park.

We hope you will once again join us and our neighbors from far and wide for this year’s celebration to enjoy the blooming of the cherry blossoms that are so prevalent on our tiny Island and celebrate the rich racial diversity that makes up our Island. This year’s event promises to be another beautiful day of community and world-class performances, and we will see you and your family there.

Egg Hunt

Despite the rainy and windy conditions, sudden change of venue, and near-frigid 40-degree temperatures, nearly 200 families braved the weather last Saturday to attend the annual RIRA Egg Hunt. From bonnet-making to visits with the Easter Bunny, a performance by the children’s cast of the Main Street Theater & Dance Alliance, and bagels with neighbors, this year’s Egg Hunt had a little bit of something for everyone.

Over 10 Island organizations hosted event table activities, including a children’s book giveaway by the Roosevelt Island Senior Association, informational table activities by our Roosevelt Island Marlins and the Roosevelt Island Wildlife Freedom Federation (as well as some last minute Girl Scout cookie sales by our Roosevelt Island Daisies).

Many heartfelt thanks and recognition goes to this year’s event organizers, RIRA Event chairwoman Irena Durkovic, Island Kids Director Nikki Leopold, PS/IS 217 Parent-Teacher Association President Erin Olavesen, Main Street Theater & Dance Alliance Executive Director Kristi Towey, and RIRA Social, Culture & Education chairwoman Lynne Strong-Shinozaki, for the weeks of planning, hard work, and coordination it took to make this year’s event a reality. We are proud to organize one of the few Egg Hunts in the City to provide an opportunity for children all the way up to 10 years old to hunt for eggs and surprises – and even more proud that such a far-reaching event can be held on Roosevelt Island and offered to all members of our Island community.

This year’s event would not have happened if not for the more than 25 partners and sponsors who donated countless hours of service and the stuffing of literally thousands of eggs, as well as monetary support, books, and prizes.

A very big thank-you goes especially to Island Kids, a 20-year-old Island not-for-profit organization dedicated to offering child group programs, after-school enrichment, and summer camps for Island children, and the Roosevelt Island Parents Network, an Island network of parents and families dedicated to providing different activities for families and advocacy for Island children. Manhattan Park and Grenadier Management graciously allowed us to host the event on their grounds. The Roosevelt Island Girl Scouts, including the Daisies and Troops 3001, 3244, and 3245, who stuffed over 2,500 eggs and volunteered throughout the event; as well as this year’s sponsors: Wholesome Factory, Piccolo Trattoria, Starbucks, RIVAA, The Carter Burden Center for the Aging, the PTA of PS/IS 217, Hope Church, RICCD, the NY Public Library’s Roosevelt Island branch, the Roosevelt Island Marlins, and RIOC.

Without such support, events like the Egg Hunt would not be able to happen – and we thank you for it!

Tags: RIRA RIRA Column

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