RIRA Has Abandoned It's Mission to Be Islanders' Voice

May 14, 2017


To the Editor:


Being a public official comes at a price. You lose your anonymity. 


People who step into the role of a public official can no longer hide behind a right to privacy. The public has the right to comment about them. And the public has the right to hold referendums, conduct surveys, and petition about how they’re doing. The public does not need their approval or permission in order to do so.


Howard Polivy spoke at the May Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) meeting to say that he never gave his permission for his name to appear on the referendum ballot. He is a public official. He should know better. He was simply preying on the lack of knowledge of the Common Council to explain why he landed next to the bottom of the list that goes to the governor, alongside David Kraut, another current Board member, who landed at the very bottom. 


Often, in the United States, we hold elections for public officials. But there are public offices for which no elections are held. That does not make the person in the role any less of a public official. The Directors of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) are public officials. 


When this community voices its opinion on who we want in the director seats of RIOC, that voice must contain our opinion, not only of the new people who want those seats, but also of the people who currently hold them. If we don’t express that voice, people we want can be deprived of the seat because people we don’t want hold them. Because of our very peculiar structure as a governing body for a community, that could happen even if we express our voice, but at least by doing so, we can hope for change. 


No matter what you heard the vote called in the past, it was never an election. We never were able to install people by virtue of our vote. We could only provide advice to the governor; and that – a referendum, not an election – is what we conducted on April 17 and 18.


I’ve been asked why we had two different sets of requirements for people on the ballot. It’s because the new people were still “private persons” while the sitting RIOC directors were not. A private person needs to demonstrate that you have the right to hold a referendum about them. A public official does not. 


All the people on the ballot, whether new or existing RIOC directors, were given the opportunity to appeal for your vote. They received word that they could provide a statement and photo for the press. They could appear at Candidate’s Night. There are multiple ways to appeal for your vote. They could go out to shake hands at the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. They could hand out flyers. They could take out an ad in the paper or post information on the blog. No one did so. 


Why does the referendum matter?


When you look around the community, you see neglected infrastructure:


• Broken sidewalks that RIOC is being litigated against because people have tripped on them  


• Rusted fencing all around the Island 


• Inoperable street lights


• Elevators that don’t work, year after year


• Empty storefronts and limited commercial services


These are some of the visible signs of RIOC’s ineffective management; management that would be more effective if we had a clearly established method of holding the RIOC Board accountable.


I tried to give our community that tool. In an absurd decision on Wednesday, May 3, RIRA stripped the community, you, of your voice. Over 30 volunteers turned out to help with balloting for the April 17 and 18 vote. 951 ballots were cast. But 14 RIRA representatives voted to remove the order in which the subjects of the referendum finished, giving the governor no guidance on who you want installed, who you want to remain, and who you want to go. 


[Editorial note: RIRA voted to remove the vote tally for each candidate, not the sequence.]


The governor can put anyone he wants in those seats. He could have people in mind about whom you have no knowledge. He will have no guidance from the community to understand which particular seat he should use to install that person. 


I proposed a resolution to the Common Council that would provide you a continued say in the community’s governance. It called for a referendum to be held every two years for expiring seats. Doing so will replicate the value of an election, although it would still need action from the governor with support from the senate, to implement. My resolution was shot down because the RIRA Common Council felt it was “too much work.” 


Who should be rolling up their sleeves to give you your voice?


Government holds elections all the time! Every two years we vote for presidents, governors, senators, council members, etc. And RIOC should be holding this referendum. Until they do, it is the responsibility of RIRA to give you your voice. Their failure to do so makes them nothing more than a source of entertainment instead of a serious asset for the betterment of the community. 


Joyce Short

RIRA Government Relations Committee Chair


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