In a contentious May 3 meeting, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) voted in favor of sending a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo with the results of April’s Island-wide vote to determine how the community would like the expired seats on the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) filled.
“We understand that vetting by the State is an important part of the process,” the letter states, “and we hope that the State will find the following community residents worthy of the task.”
The letter lists the seven nominees in descending order of votes received, but does not include the actual vote tallies associated with each person – a compromise reached after some council members expressed concern over election procedures. The letter was forwarded to all of the Island’s elected officials.
The RIRA letter includes the names of both Howard Polivy and David Kraut, two sitting RIOC Board members whose names were placed on the ballot, but who had not submitted candidate statements, had not attended the Candidates’ Forum, and had not agreed to be a part of the election. The two men received the fewest votes.
In a lengthy meeting punctuated by angry retorts, multiple amendment motions, and accusations of improper procedures, the common council approved a motion to submit the names of the five candidates who received the most votes (all of whom followed nomination procedures) to the Governor and Mayor, but to require Polivy and Kraut to affirmatively opt in (in writing) to being included.
The council also chose to exclude vote tallies next to nominees names because of concern that the numbers would unfairly disadvantage Polivy and Kraut. Newer, and not as engaged Islanders, might not have voted for them simply because there wasn’t a picture of them with a candidate statement in the Roosevelt Islander blog, or in the WIRE.
Arguing against the inclusion of Kraut and Polivy in the letter entirely, council member Aaron Hamburger said, “If they wanted to be nominated, they could have done the work like all of the other candidates.”
After the meeting, RIRA President Jeffrey Escobar sent both Polivy and Kraut a letter seeking their consent. “One key point of the Resolution was the inclusion of both of your names on the list of nominees to be transmitted,” Escobar wrote. “Insofar as it has been noted that both of your names were included on the April referendum’s ballot without notice, a key part of the resolution is consent by you to include either of your names on the list of nominees.”
He said that a non-response would be deemed lack of consent, and the name would not appear in the letter as a winning nominee.
Kraut responded by restating his policy to stay out of RIRA affairs, writing, “This policy dates from the time I was president of RIRA in 1992-1994, when I caught the then-administration of RIOC attempting to stir something up in RIRA.” But he said that the situation merits an exception: “I am forced to deem that in this case, a non-response would itself be an interference in RIRA’s business.”
Kraut expressed his disappointment once again in the decision to put his name on the ballot, saying, “That committee made the absurd, possibly illegal, and certainly immoral decision that my silence in that matter implied my consent to my name being misused.”
RIRA Government Relations Committee chair Joyce Short has said that her committee felt compelled to include both Kraut and Polivy on the ballot to give Islanders an opportunity to voice support for them. “RIOC seats are public offices,” she said. “The community has the right to express whether we want the governor to extend a person’s term or fill it with someone else. But if a board member who wants to continue is not included, we could be depriving the community of their choices because the governor would not know how the community feels. That would be grossly unfair to the community and would not represent our interests.”
Polivy said he didn’t run because of the time involved and concerns that the process being followed was inadequate. He also said, “I didn’t know it was a referendum. I was told it was an election.” He said that if he had known his name was going to appear on the ballot anyway, he would have campaigned and talked to constituents, just as he did the last time he ran for the Board.
He said he felt blindsided and disadvantaged in finding his name on the ballot, but emphasized that he is not opposed to residents voting on nominations. “I like the idea that people in the community are brought to the attention of the governor.”
Despite the debate held at the RIRA meeting, Polivy said he believed that the concern expressed by the Common Council that current Board members who are not included will automatically be replaced is overblown. He said, “I certainly hope all of the vacancies are filled appropriately,” but says it’s hard to say how this governor will do it, because he hasn’t done it before.
The April vote for RIOC nominees was conducted in response to information from both Short and RIOC President Susan Rosenthal that filling State-controlled Board seats is currently on the governor’s radar.
RIOC Board elections are not mandated, or provided for, or discussed, in any laws or bylaws or other official documents at any level of government or governance – even RIRA, except in specific resolutions.
The first election, in February 2008, was prompted by a 2007 suggestion from former RIOC President Steve Shane, under Governor Eliot Spitzer. Four of the candidates elected in that nominating election were appointed by Spitzer’s successor, David Paterson, in June 2008. The second election was in May 2009, and the two resulting appointments were made by Paterson in January 2010. The third and fourth RIOC Board elections took place in February 2012 and November 2012.
RIOC Board member Margie Smith addressed the council to express a sense of urgency. “Time is of the essence,” she said. “If the governor is going to fill the vacancies, he has to first get two [names] from the mayor’s office and they have to go through City vetting. Then, those members, as well as the governor’s, have to go through additional vetting before they can be submitted for approval. Remember, final approval has to come from the State senators. And the senate session ends June 1.”
Then she added, “And thanks for holding the… ‘thing’... whatever it is you want to call it,” alluding to the confusion inherent in voting to elect community nominees, and not simply to elect Board members.