Opinion: RIRA Election Tally Is a Call for Greater Accountability

Written by David Lawson, RIRA Planning Committee Chair. Posted in Volume 37, Issue 7 - December 10, 2016

David Lawson
David Lawson, RIRA Planning Committee Chair
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On November 8, Donald Trump was elected president - the first time in American political history that the president-elect has not had a political or military background.

History was also made on Roosevelt Island that day; a record 1,438 ballots were cast for the Roosevelt Island Resident Association (RIRA) Common Council election. 2016 marks the highest turnout ever for such an election.

I want to thank everyone who voted in the RIRA election for contributing to making our community democracy lively. Higher voter turnout ensures that residents’ interests are represented by their resident association.

I hope voters continue to be proactive to ensure, along with their Island neighbors, that they hold their elected representatives accountable to represent their interests and raise their concerns.

Another way this election was historical is the record-high renewal tide within the Common Council.

Out of some 40 candidates, 19 were first-time runners and 17 of those were eventually elected. A landslide – half of the newly elected RIRA Common Council is completely new, including new residents.

This result is an outcry for change. The major renewal of the RIRA Common Council membership is a most welcome development. The new composition of the council mirrors the recent changes in population dynamics on Roosevelt Island. The gender balance on the council is also a victory for women’s representation, with a significant majority of 21 female versus 14 male council members.

There is always community debate about how proactive, useful, or representative the RIRA Common Council is. The record-high number of voters in this election is a vote of confidence for change and a confirmation of the community’s expectations from the newly elected council. RIRA’s accountability has also been questioned in the past; greater confidence comes along with greater accountability from RIRA to the community.

When I joined the Council in 2014, I committed because I wanted to contribute to enhanced community participation, greater communication with the community, and open and trusting dialogue with the Roosevelt Island Operating Committee (RIOC) representing the governor of New York on Roosevelt Island, as the Island remains state-governed. Over the past two years, the increased participation by the community in RIRA’s activities has been a positive indicator of Islanders’ satisfaction with RIRA’s initiatives. However, for too many residents, the Common Council remains too distant a body.

In 2015, the Common Council launched a broad survey for all Roosevelt Islanders in an attempt to reach out to the wider community and understand their concerns. The results have been interesting and the participation significant.

The Main Street WIRE graciously keeps the community informed of RIRA’s meetings and activities and routinely opens its column to RIRA. Nevertheless, more must be done to ensure greater participation and involvement by the community in RIRA’s affairs.

In November 2015, I was elected RIRA Planning Committee Chair. The role of the Planning Committee is to represent the council on matters involving future development of Roosevelt Island, including commercial development, housing, vehicular access, transportation, social services, and energy.

For the past year, the committee has worked on environmental protection to ensure air-quality monitoring on the Island and protect the quality of the drinking water. The committee has been discussing enhanced public transportation on the Island and vehicular parking limitations.

We have engaged with Cornell Tech to ensure their coordinated involvement in the future infrastructure development of the Island, as new campus staff and students result in weakened infrastructure. Similarly, the privatization of formerly rent-stabilized buildings combined with the increasing number of market-rate buildings challenges the Island’s commitment to income diversity. I have established a positive, constructive, and ongoing dialogue on these issues with RIOC President and CEO Susan Rosenthal.

The recent appointment of Rosenthal to the position of RIOC president and CEO is central to the future of the island. A former RIOC vice president and general counsel, and interim CEO before her confirmation as president & CEO, she is in many ways an Island insider, a pragmatic, proactive, and dynamic community-driven leader, respectful of the community and willing to give her best for the interests of Roosevelt Islanders. She and I share the belief in two essential ingredients for the success in the future of the Island: pragmatism and solutions.

There have been many complaints about RIOC and RIRA. Let these rest in the past. The time has come for all of us to work out solutions together, and move forward. We have a primary responsibility to protect and ensure the well-being and equitable treatment of residents of all conditions and ages.

Tags: RIRA Editorial Representation & Governance

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