Protests, not RIRA, Will Get Albany’s Attention

Dick Lutz’s passing has given me pause. I’ve looked back at the past to see where our community was, where we wanted to go, and where we’ve actually arrived.

When he and I began to edit The WIRE over 20 years ago, it was because the Roosevelt Island Residents’ Association (RIRA) was falling apart under its leadership and I recognized that the only way to bring it back was to hold an election supported by press information. Without that, no one would have known who the candidates were, or their positions.

Over the years, Dick and I would frequently shake our heads out of frustration and laugh at how absurd it was that Roosevelt Island, the land that democracy forgot, proved so powerfully how important democracy actually is.

I was long under the impression that nothing short of demonstrations by the community to protest our absence of democratic government could create a change, but I hoped, as he did, that enlightenment through the press would solve the Island’s problems. Twenty-odd years later, we’re still where we were, and our problems have grown.

When a legislator recently offered to recommend me for a RIOC board seat, I declined. I did so for the very reasons that Margie Smith recently resigned. The only way people should occupy seats on a board that governs a community is through elections by that community.

Simply appointing people because they live in the community, and failing to give that community the right to express their thumbs up or down with their votes, is contrary to common sense and the very premise of democratic government on which our nation exists. Elections (except for the grotesque anomaly the Electoral College produced with Trump) weed out unwanted officials and replace them with others. Our current Roosevelt Island system is the height of hypocrisy, and deprives our residents of their constitutional rights.

It’s sheer irony that the Governor of New York State gets to unilaterally appoint the officers that oversee the Board, rather than elected Board members overseeing officers it appoints. This absurdity, masquerading as government, negatively impacts every resident in our community.

Yes, we can look around and see that “stuff” gets done here. But that would be true no matter who served as RIOC President. The problem is that the community’s interests are pushed aside by the interests of RIOC. Things like the RI monument get crammed down our throats and, even more seriously, crime statistics get consistently suppressed, even when lurid acts harm our residents.

RIOC President Susan Rosenthal is one of the most affable, likeable people I know. She is cordial and intelligent. She is not a bad person, she simply holds a bad job; a job that is inconsistent with the concept of democratic government.

Margie Smith and Fay Christian just opened up two additional spots on the RIOC board with their resignations. Every single one of the other resident seats has expired, and the Governor is simply ignoring this community’s referendum that took place several months ago to fill them. Nothing short of a demonstration, over the unconstitutional way our community is governed, like the one we staged over public lewdness, will stop this nonsense.

I must admit, I’m exhausted. I’ve fought for appropriate governance for our community for over 20 years.

Appropriate governance would correctly police our community, and provide a citizen’s complaint review board, not a self-determined review by RIOC staff over RIOC staffers.

Appropriate governance would ensure that the multinational, billion-dollar, corporate co-location partners of Cornell Tech pick up their fair share of our community’s services, just like they would do if they were located anywhere else in New York City.

Appropriate governance would take the community’s interests to heart in any of the decisions that are made on regulations and services.

Appropriate governance would make the lion’s share of public purpose funds available to the community to support the nonprofits that provide our quality of life, instead of RIOC siphoning off those funds to pay itself.

What this community needs is elections, not appointments. Since it’s unlikely that will ever take place, we need to implement Plan B: hold a referendum every two years, to express to the governor how we want the staggered seats on the RIOC Board to be filled, as well as to express a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on all the RIOC officers.

And we need to demonstrate. Yes, take to Main Street, with the press watching, to send our results, in a loud and clear fashion, to the governor.

Without that, no one is accountable or ever will be accountable to our community.

After 20-plus years of struggle, I believe it’s futile to expect RIRA, as it’s currently constructed, to do the right thing. That’s why I’ve resigned.

I’ve created a Facebook page that can help our community get appropriate action and information on crimes: Crime victims, witnesses, and people interested in appropriate government for our community can contact me at I will post their crime information and build a coalition to fight for representative government on Roosevelt Island.

Each month on #MySafeRI, you’ll see the RIOC blotter posted. If you dispute the information on the blotter, please contact me so that the community can be better informed. When you follow the Facebook page, you’ll be automatically updated as reports come in.

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