The Fight for Self Governance Has Been a Long One

April 29, 2017


To the Editor:


I want to commend Joyce Short and Jeffrey Escobar for their discussions in the April 8 WIRE on the long effort to impose democratically elected representation by residents on the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) Board of Directors. I also want to clarify a point made in The RIRA Column which stated, “…we face the prospect of having non-residents being seated who will have direct control over the Island’s operations and governance.” 


This struggle began in the late 1990s when the Maple Tree Group (MTG), in cooperation with the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA), sought to require that the RIOC Board be composed of a majority of Island residents chosen and recommended to the Governor by this community. 


This effort resulted in a meeting of MTG and RIRA directors with Governor George Pataki and then-State Senator Olga Mendez, in 2002, forming the genesis of a law requiring the RIOC Board to be composed of a majority of Island residents or five of the nine directors mandated by the statute that created RIOC, Chapter 899 of the Unconsolidated Laws of 1984. This law, known as the Open Spaces Law, had several parts incorporating a variety of changes in 899.


Pataki never considered Island participation in choosing board directors. Yet, Governor Spitzer asked for Island input to aid his selection. We provided this input through Island-wide elections, and Governor Paterson appointed five of our choices to the RIOC Board. Well, Escobar and Short have spelled out what has transpired since. The present governor has ignored the progress made by his predecessors and the RIOC Board is currently short two directors, with those remaining occupying seats that expired years ago. The two elections, mounted by RIRA in 2012 to fill those seats with the community’s choices, were ignored and unremarked upon by Governor Cuomo. 


By statute, this Board must be composed of at least five Islanders, preferably chosen by Islanders. One of those seats has been vacant for four years; a disgrace. Andy, don’t you like us? I wish the RIRA Government Relations Committee well in its present endeavors, hope y’all came out to vote in large numbers (you are reading this post-election) and, most importantly, I hope that someone on the Second Floor (the governor’s offices) will have the same passion for government of the people, by the people, and for the people (I just made that up!) that we Roosevelt Islanders have.


Matthew Katz


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