Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright brough good news to a Town Meeting Thursday night. Speaking to a crowd of about 70 Islanders in the Good Shepherd Center, she summarized an email she said had just been received, the thrust of which is that the Island’s Public Purpose Fund grants will be allowed to go forward. The development effectively reverses a January ruling of the Authorities Budget Office (ABO) that banned such grants as not being specifically authorized in legislation.
Seawright later explained to The WIRE that the ABO ruling, which had been treated as “law” by RIOC and the RIOC Board, is now to be considered a “policy guideline” until a legislative amendment she has drafted goes through the Assembly and Senate and gets the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo. She said she’s “fought with the Governor’s office every day” to secure a commitment.
The Public Purpose Fund grants have been delayed since early in the year, when a Residents Association (RIRA) committee was told to stop a process under which it would normally divide up $100,000 among Island non-profits needing the funds to support their services to the community. In the delayed funding round, organizations were requesting more than two and a half times the available funds, as is usually the case.
Charlene Indelicato, President of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), interrupted Seawright’s announcement to make it clear that a restarting of the process will require activity by RIRA, rather than the RIOC Board of Directors. Presumably, RIRA will get a green light soon to start its review process. It’s possible that the RIOC Board will authorize Indelicato to accept RIRA’s recommendations rather than requiring a delay until the next RIOC Board session.
Seawright said that her amendment to existing law, which she hopes will pass in the 11 days remaining in the legislative calendar, will eliminate the problem permanently. Island leaders swung into action when the ABO ruling caused RIOC to halt the Public Purpose Funds process, pointing out that the public authorities model is inappropriate for a community (as opposed to a transit facility or bridge), and that RIOC’s grants to Island non-profits don’t come from the State budget, but from revenue generated on the Island, most of it ultimately from residents.
RIRA’s Government Relations Committee proposed the language she is submitting (quoted text below).
The bill, if it becomes law, will permit RIOC to “do and perform all other acts necessary or convenient to [develop Roosevelt Island], "including providing financial (grants) and other supports and considerations for its non-profit organizations and institutions, and supplementing any of these services provided by other governmental agencies in such a way that it will make the services to the residential community better and more complete than otherwise possible, as [sic] Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation Board of Directors deems appropriate and necessary.”
Meanwhile, RIOC has been told by the governor’s office that it can proceed in spite of the ABO ruling.
Seawright had invited a number of elected and appointed officials to join her for the Thursday night meeting. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Jose Serrano, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and City Council Member Ben Kallos were present. Appointed officials included Indelicato and Deputy State Housing Commissioner Ted Houghton. Each had announcements or comments.
• She’d like more representation from Roosevelt Island on Community Board 8. Some 700 interviews resulted in 90 appointments to the community boards in Manhattan.
• She’s waiting for the final City budget to come in, but said her office would “be as generous as possible to Roosevelt Island.”
• He’s fighting a 92-story building, proposed for Sutton Place, whose shadow would reach across Roosevelt Island to Queens.
• He congratulated the Island on its win in the Participatory Budgeting (PB) process that will bring a green roof to PS/IS 217.
• He said that while special audio for the hearing-impaired lost out in the PB process, the fact that it came in third in balloting in his district has caused the New York Public Library to look into the technology for all of its libraries. “That’s the power of the PB process,” he said.
• He said that ferry service will soon come to Roosevelt Island “on a MetroCard swipe,” with service from the old oil dock next to the eastern tower of the Queensboro Bridge.
• He announced the advent of an NYPD Explorers troop on the Island (separate story, page 7).
• He said he is working to keep the PS/IS 217 Beacon program open and funded.
• He announced the departure of Islander Joe Strong from his staff. (Strong, the son of RIRA Common Council member Lynne Shinozaki, is headed for college.)
• He described his district as the “craziest Senate district in the world,” stretching from the West Bronx on the north to Roosevelt Island on the south, and across Central Park to the West Side highway. He said the district is diverse, but that Roosevelt Island is his district’s most diverse area.
• He reaffirmed a personal commitment to the arts, culture, and music, including education in those areas. He said he is proposing an audit process to make certain that standards are being met in schools across New York State.
• Serrano said “Roosevelt Island is suddenly hot” with the advent of Cornell, and “There is a tremendous need for an infrastructure group to make sure the waterfront is done right. The community here should have a seat at the table for anything and everything that happens on the Island.” There were few specifics.
• The Congresswoman reviewed some past accomplishments – cameras in the subway station 20 years ago, funding for Blackwell House restoration, and saving the Island’s Post Office when it was slated to be eliminated.
• She said she has obtained $4 million in federalfunds to support ferry service.
• She said she expects Cornell NYC Tech to transform the Island into a tech hub closely allied with Western Queens, where space is available for startups to grow.
In a Q&A session during which RIRA Common Council member Joyce Short, chair of RIRA’s Government Relations Committee, read questions submitted by Islanders, Seawright said she has good access to the governor’s office, and she expects to be able to coordinate a meeting of City, State, and federal legislators with the governor to remake the governance of Roosevelt Island.