After a champagne toast, long-time community activist and Manhattan Park resident Lynne Shinozaki chaired her first Roosevelt Island Residents Association as president last night. Westview resident David Lawson, winning the only contested seat in the election, is the organization’s new vice president.
The sole candidate for RIRA President, Shinozaki won 1237 votes. The self-described “activist, organizer, philanthropist, volunteer, wife, and mother of three” has served on RIRA since 1991 - the last two in the role of vice president, and self identified in her inaugural meeting as president as its longest running member. She advocates for health, housing, and seniors’ issues on the state, city and community levels. As chair of RIRA’s Social, Cultural, and Education Committee, she initiated the Cherry Blossom Festival, Skate R.I., RIRA Showcase, Egg Hunt, Hands Only CPR, Ben Hugs, and the Pay It Forward Committee (a community-based program to aid economically challenged individuals and families). She serves as a board member on the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, Roosevelt Island Community Coalition, and is an American Heart Association Advocate.
New RIRA President Lynne Shinozaki with former President Jeff Escobar
She was appointed to Manhattan Community Board 8 and elected to the New York State Democratic County Committee in 2013; was the program director for eviction services from 2005-2009, in which she created a Mitchell Lama Empowerment Program to help tenants avoid eviction.
Breaking Down the Numbers
There were a total of 1366 ballots counted yesterday, a “tremendous turnout,” according to Sharon Williams, elections committee chair, although somewhat lower than the 1534 who came out to vote in 2016. This year, however, brought more Roosevelt Landings, Manhattan Park, Octagon, and Island House residents to the polls than voted in 2016. In comparison, 2,491 Islanders voted in the midterm elections.
The new council consists of 32 members; there were 32 elected in 2014, and in 2016 nearly 40. Many of the newcomers are also new to the Island. Southtown representative Sally Ashe said, “I arrived on the Island five weeks ago tomorrow and I find myself on RIRA.”
The 2018-2020 RIRA Common Council (not pictured David Lawson - VP; Shuang Yu - Manhattan Park; Eneaqua Lewis - 4 River Road; Nancy Brown - Roosevelt Landings; Dexter Williams - Southtown; Vadim Malinsky, Bafode Drame - Westview; David Turley - Octagon.)
Seats on the Common Council are apportioned by the number of residents in each district. The candidates with the most votes are elected to fill the seats in each district. The remaining candidates are named as alternates and may serve at the meeting when the elected representative is absent. Candidates whose names were written in are able to attend the meeting and may be accepted on an ad hoc basis as representatives by the elected members of that district’s delegation consistent with the number of vacant seats.
In the election’s only contested race, David Lawson beat Frank Farance 823 - 469 to become vice president. At the candidate’s night held last week, Lawson said, “I believe very strongly in the work RIRA is doing.” In response to a question regarding instituting a code of conduct for the organization, something RIRA has been working on for some time, Lawson said, “People who volunteer on this Island should not have to fear reprisal or slander, or [suffer any negative consequences] for their altruistic efforts. We are trying to gather people as much as we can. The last thing we want is any divisiveness.”
This might have been a veiled reference to Farance’s reputation on the Island for doing just that, through prolific commenting on the Roosevelt Islander blog and emails he routinely sends community-wide and to officials around the city and state.
Escobar Bids Farewell
Shinozaki replaces Jeff Escobar, who served as president since March 2014, when he assumed the office after Ellen Polivy resigned halfway into the first year of her term. Polivy’s resignation left Escobar with a number of internal problems to address. Among them: a long-running challenge by Frank Farance over the form and substance of a financial report on the previous April’s Cherry Blossom Festival; and an effort to expel Farance from the Common Council. This effort, launched in response to the tone and rhetoric used by Farance during the Council’s monthly meetings and in RIRA’s closed email system seen by many as persistent “bullying”, was ultimately unsuccessful.
Escobar employed a speakers’ list and imposed time limits in order to address another challenge facing the Council – streamlining meetings. In an interview before leading his first common council meeting, Escobar described his objective: “To get RIRA functioning collectively, to inspire members’ confidence in me, and to revitalize the Council and its program.” He said, “It’s up to the Council members how much or how little gets done. We have to gauge how long that will take – and if people are willing to do it.” He defined RIRA as the direct conduit not only to RIOC, but also to the City and State at large, and said that, “ it is time that the members come together to be the voice of the community... and to function as a group to address Island issues in a setting where all are invited.”
In the following WIRE, Dave Evans penned the RIRA column, “The biggest show on the Island Wednesday night was a performance in the basement of the Good Shepherd Center. Just like the Oscars Awards show, the attendees came dressed in their best behavior. In attendance were many former presidents of RIRA – Sharon Pope, Matthew Katz, Frank Farance, Ellen Polivy. The meeting was superbly orchestrated and, for the first time in a long time, the agenda items were well covered and the elected Common Councilors were orderly.”
Escobar’s tenure, lasting until last night, remained that way. Meetings remained civil, speakers were timed, and he moderated the meetings using Robert’s Rules to ensure the meetings were expeditious. “When I stepped in five years ago,” said Escobar, “it was a completely different organization. I am hopeful and have full confidence in the new board.”