Rebecca Graham, legislative counsel for Assembly member Rebecca Seawright, announced at the May Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) meeting that her office is working alongside Senator Serrano’s office to supply a list of names to the mayor and governor to fill the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) board.
Currently, all of the public RIOC board members have expired terms. Though the law states the board must have nine members, currently there are only five. Most recently, the community held a referendum in 2017 to fill board seats, but neither the governor nor the mayor appointed any of those candidates, or any others of their own choosing. The board has not had the requisite amount of members since 2011.
Graham explained that her first approach was to reach out to the winners and participants in the 2017 referendum to see if they are still interested in serving. Island House resident Lydia Tang won the most referendum votes, followed by Brian Bower and Marc Block. “There have been a lot of phone calls and discussions,” Graham explained. “They have asked us to give them a list of names.”
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.
Four RIOC elections have been held since that first one, each on an ad hoc basis – most recently in April 2017. (There were two elections in 2012.) When Governor Cuomo declined to appoint any of the community-proposed nominees from the November, 2012 election, no further elections were held until one in the spring of 2017 after it was learned that the RIOC board was on the Governor’s “radar.”
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 with some 30 people volunteering over 90 hours of their time to support it.
Graham says the Assembly Member and Senator Serrano have been “very aggressive and very vocal” and it’s working; “they [the Governor and Mayor’s offices] are responding to us.”
Graham explained the priority is to fill vacancies.