The first time I met Jessica Lappin, she was greeting Roosevelt Islanders outside the subway, hoping to replace Gifford Miller, representing Roosevelt Island and the UES. “Good luck, Jennifer,” I said. “Jessica,” she quickly corrected me. It wasn’t a mistake many of us would make again.
By David Stone
Four eight years, Jessica Lappin worked her way through the high profile politics of New York’s daily grind. In a demanding environment where others fade into the background, Lappin thrived, contributing to the creation of FDR Four Freedoms Park and negotiating a delicate balance between Cornell Tech and our community.
Lappin remains active here, serving on the board of the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy, and according to a Times article visiting frequently with her family for bike rides.
In this Q&A, she reflects on life during and after the City Council, sharing her insights and a surprising modesty about achievements during her tenure.
RI Daily: It’s been over three years since you were term-limited out of the City Council. Tell us what you’ve been up to.
Lappin: I have been President of the Downtown Alliance since February 2014. The Alliance is the Business Improvement District that serves Lower Manhattan and our mission is to make this vibrant area an attractive, modern, and competitive place to live, work, and visit. We have a public safety division, sanitation department, run a free bus, work with street homeless, provide research on the market, produce programming, and market the neighborhood.
Outside of work, I’ve been enjoying being around more for my sons Lucas (now 10) and Miles (6) as well as having time to travel and cook. I’ve also become an avid runner. I ran the NYC marathon in 2014, the Brooklyn Half last month, and quite a few other races in between.
RI Daily: As a City Council Member, you often seemed to be everywhere all at once. Does your latest career move allow you more time with Andrew, Lucas and Miles?
Lappin: I loved being in the City Council, making connections, and fighting for our neighborhood. That said, so much of that work happens on weeknights and weekends when community groups meet. Now, it’s nice to be home most nights for dinner and to cheer Lucas on during his Saturday morning soccer games. He plays goal keeper on a regional travel team. Though as a parent, goalie is a nerve wracking position to watch! I also get to take Miles to his piano lessons and just hang out together as a family. In general, I get to spend a heck of a lot more time with them and it’s wonderful. Andy and I even get to enjoy date nights again.
RI Daily: I’ve read that you return occasionally to Roosevelt Island to ride bikes with your family. Any reflections on seeing the community from a wholly different angle?
Lappin: We like to take the tram or bike over the Queensboro bridge and do the loop around the island. I enjoy bumping into old friends and catching up with them on Main Street. I also like seeing the progress at Cornell-Technion. While the skyline may be changing, the beautiful heart and character are the same.
RI Daily: I had the privilege of covering two momentous events for Roosevelt Island, the building of FDR Four Freedoms Park and the initial run-up to what became Cornell Tech. Both are now widely considered smashing successes. How do you see them as part of your legacy?
Lappin: Now more than ever, with the constant assault on immigrants and human rights in our country, we need a place dedicated to President Roosevelt’s four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech, of worship, from want and from fear. It is architecturally beautiful and an essential reminder of how heartbreakingly fragile those freedoms can be. I was the first public official to support and dedicate major public funding to the FDR Four Freedoms Park and I am very proud of the role I played bringing it to fruition.
As for Cornell-Tech, it was exciting to negotiate the final deal that we approved in the City Council. That campus should generate tens of thousands of jobs, grow our economy, and lead to technological and life-saving advancements that we can’t even dream of today. We said it a lot at the time and it still true: it’s a real game-changer for our city.
RI Daily: Many Roosevelt Islanders, without your getting credit for it, probably benefit most from your negotiating bringing MetroCard to the Tram and merging it into the MTA system. Would you like to claim some credit, while you have the (virtual) floor?
Lappin: I was in the room when the MTA Chair and Speaker Gifford Miller made the deal. I may have advocated for it, but the credit goes to them and to RIOC for making it happen.
Jessica Lappin, how she got there…
RI Daily: I dislike term limits because they limit our choices as voters. Without any negative reflection on Ben Kallos, who’s popular here, what are your thoughts on being prevented from continuing your work as a City Council member?
Lappin: I voted against Mayor Bloomberg’s bill to give himself and the Council a third term. The voters had spoken, twice, and I didn’t think the Council should overturn the will of the people. That said, I am not a fan of term limits. Every time there is an election, the voters can impose their own term limits and make a change. And with campaign finance reform in NYC, that really can and does happen.
RI Daily: One thing you championed as a City Council Member was the building of the Second Avenue Subway. It’s finally open, but the system in general is in disarray and in need of modernization. This probably concerns you in your current role, too. Any thoughts on this or ideas on what we need to do to avert future disasters in public transit?
Lappin: The system needs money for both maintenance and expansion. That is the simple, yet painful answer. The MTA has to find ways to modernize our crumbling system, add additional capacity, and keep the fares affordable. That will be tough, but critical for our health and success as a city.
RI Daily: Twenty years from now, where is Jessica Lappin and what will she be remembered for?
Lappin: In 20 years, I hope to be living right here in the center of the universe, just a subway ride away from my boys and grandkids, still working hard to make New York City a better place for all. And while feeling proud of what I have accomplished professionally, I hope to be remembered most as a great mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend and true New Yawka.
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