The Island has spoken – though perhaps not as much of it as election organizers had hoped.
Last week, 951 Islanders voted in an election to recommend members for the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) Board of Directors, the Island’s governing body. Island House resident Lydia Tang won the most votes at 558. However, because all of the Board seats have expired, all seven nominees could end up on the list of Island recommendations expected to be sent to Governor Cuomo, who is ultimately tasked with appointing members to the Board.
“Our timing could not have been better,” said Joyce Short, chair of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Government Relations Committee, which organized the election. “I’d been tipped off that our expired – not just open – seats appeared on the Governor’s ‘radar screen,’ and RIOC President Susan Rosenthal confirmed [in last week’s Board meeting] that, indeed, she’d received an email from Albany about them.”
A Manhattan Park resident casts her ballot for RIOC Board seats.
The purpose of the vote was to create a list of Island nominees to be considered by Governor Cuomo, and by Mayor de Blasio, who is tasked with suggesting two appointments to the governor. All seven of the non-ex-officio RIOC board seats are currently expired, and two are actually empty. (Longtime Island pediatrician Dr. Katherine Grimm recently resigned from the board, and a non-resident board member who was appointed in June 2011, resigned in 2013.)
Board members must be officially appointed by the Governor of the State of New York with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Since 1997, a group of Islanders has sought an amendment of the 1984 legislation creating RIOC, with the aim of letting Islander’s elect residents to fill RIOC’s seven public seats.
Progress was made in 2002, when then-Governor George Pataki amended the 1984 law to require that a minimum of five of the seven public members be residents.
In 2007, early in Governor Eliot Spitzer’s administration, Islanders were offered the opportunity to hold elections in order to provide names of residents for the Governor to consider for appointment to the Board. (There was no guarantee given that any of the community nominees would be appointed.)
The first nominating election was held February 5, 2008. Between June 2008 and May 2009, four of the resulting community-elected nominees were appointed by then-Governor David Paterson, and all seven public board members were residents.
Three RIOC elections have been held since that first one, each on an ad hoc basis – most recently in November of 2012. (There were two elections in 2012.) However, when Governor Cuomo declined to appoint any of the community-proposed nominees from the November, 2012 election, no further elections were held until this month.
To earn a spot on the ballot, candidates were asked to garner community signatures, submit statements to local media, and to appear at a Candidates Night forum to answer resident questions. A total of five candidates stepped forward, including current RIOC board member Michael Shinozaki.
Voting was held at 12 sites around the Island on two consecutive days last week. According to Short, some 30 people volunteered over 90 hours of their time to support it.
When Islanders came to cast their votes, however, some were surprised to find two additional names on the ballot – current RIOC board members Howard Polivy and David Kraut. In fact, even Polivy and Kraut were surprised. Neither had submitted candidate statements nor had they agreed to be a part of the election.
“I did not ask for my name to be on the ballot, and was shocked and surprised to see it there,” Kraut said. “RIOC board and staff should stay the hell out of RIRA’s business, and this thing is clearly RIRA’s business and RIRA’s problem.”
Polivy said he learned of his inclusion on the ballot through an email by Islander Frank Farance. “I had not given prior consent.”
Short, for her part, has maintained that the Government Relations Committee had the right to decide who went on the ballot, and has sought to reframe the process as a survey rather than a formal election. “We do not need the person’s permission to ask the community how they feel,” she said. “A referendum does not require that a person enter a race. It’s a petition or survey that acts as advice, and in our case it serves as advice to the governor about who the community wants the expired seats filled by. In order to do so, we first had to ask who wanted those expired seats. We asked people who had never served, and people who have already served.”
The people who had never served were Lydia Tang, Brian Bower, Edward Jany, and Marc Block. All four received more votes than incumbents Polivy and Kraut.
Lydia Tang 558
Brian Bower 470
Mark Block 464
M. Shinozaki 432
Eduardo Janey 429
Howard Polivy 287
David Kraut 235
According to Short, when neither Polivy nor Kraut expressed a specific desire to be kept off the ballot, her committee felt compelled to include 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.”
Current board member Margie Smith said she was surprised to see her colleagues Polivy and Kraut on the ballot. “Joyce Short sent us all emails encouraging us to run if we wanted to run. I said I don’t want to run. I’ll stay until the governor replaces me with another resident. When I saw their names I assumed it related to how they answered her.”
Still, said Smith, including Polivy and Kraut does not invalidate the election in her view. “If it were a true election, sure. But to me, it’s a survey and this helps us tell the governor these are the people who are interested.”
As for what’s next, the results of the nominating election will be formally presented to the RIRA Common Council at their May 3 meeting.
Members will decide, at that time, when to submit the names to Cuomo’s office. Apparently we are finally on the governor’s radar. Stay tuned.