New York Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright became Roosevelt Island’s elected representative in January 2015. A lawyer by training, Seawright says she entered politics to have an impact on the communities around her. “I want to be the most effective legislator I can be. A legislator who puts the community first.”
As a part of The WIRE’s ongoing election and politics series, we asked Seawright her views on some of the issues affecting Roosevelt Island and on the upcoming election.
Seawright says she believes that Roosevelt Island should be self-governed to better serve and respond to the needs of its residents, and has been working to make that dream come true.
“I am a strong proponent of representative government,” she says.
She sponsored both public-purpose funding bills that were signed into law, and says she was disappointed when the self-governance bill didn’t pass the Senate.
“As a legislator,” Seawright says, “my principal focus is to establish greater self-governance and full transparency of the conduct of RIOC business.”
Referring to the seat left vacant since 2013 and the expired term limits of current RIOC board members, Seawright says, “I would like to see the RIOC Board at full strength in terms of its membership and in terms of its staffing,”
Seawright would like to see more residents become vocal about Island governance and participate in public meetings, but she also believes a democratic-majority State senate will be a more conducive environment to support such a bill. She soon plans to reintroduce her bill to require the CEO of RIOC to be, or become, a resident. The bill passed the New York Assembly in June, after it failed to pass the State Senate.
Seawright applauds the efforts of Islanders to keep housing affordable, saying, “Just this weekend Westview residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of the plan to exit the Mitchell-Lama program and become a private co-op with an affordability plan.”
While she understands the challenges inherent in ending the Mitchell-Lama housing era and the danger in the lack of controls on rents, Seawright thinks it was a significant and important win for Westview residents wanting to remain renters, with only a 6.1% initial rent increase versus the 14.9% originally proposed. She was pleased she could play a pivotal role in having the increase rolled back.
To help residents make informed decisions, Seawright is looking to form a partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY) Law School campus in Long Island City to bring a legal clinic to the Island to advise and assist residents as gentrification continues.
She confirms that there currently are “no plans to add affordable housing” to the Island, but is hopeful to see more of it.
When asked about the Island’s public school, Seawright says she is very hopeful that Cornell Tech’s arrival to the Island in 2017 will mean an expanded partnership and additional offerings for PS/IS 217. She points to the Girls Who Code workshops as a good example of what the school needs. She is also proud of the $500,000 State capital funds her office successfully obtained for the PS/IS 217 STEM green roof project.
When talking about New York State ranking of PS/IS 217, Seawright promises, “I will continue to fight for more public money in partnership with United Federations of Teachers, New York State United Teachers and the Community Supported Agriculture, so that we can have smaller class sizes, higher salaries for teachers and staff, and better test scores,” but says there is a lot to be proud of, like the fact that 93% of survey-takers (including teachers, students, and parents) report strong family-community ties to the school, and 90% of parents saying they would recommend the school to other parents.
Seawright sees education as more than just the Island’s public school system. She has put forth a plan that is being reviewed by Cornell Tech to allow seniors to audit classes for free, as well as to offer free or inexpensive classes for seniors on the Island via various higher education institutes including Cornell Tech and CUNY.
Seawright isn’t mincing her words when it comes to her unwavering support of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton: “I am a Democrat and a feminist and I believe in Hillary strongly.”
She campaigns on Clinton’s behalf by encouraging her own constituents to get out and vote for Clinton, and could not been be prouder to have had Secretary Clinton announce her candidacy on Roosevelt Island last year.