Chuck Schumer, U.S. Senate Majority Leader, got an enthusiastic welcome yesterday from guests invited by State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright. Her district includes the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island. Guests from the latter raised Schumer’s awareness.
By David Stone
Chuck Schumer enjoys retail politics, responding forcefully to hails of unplanned questions, with the easy familiarity of a man who appears to know about everything. Insightful anecdotes, many from personal history, level the distance between the man and his audience.
But he’s humble enough to share, at the outset, that he learns something new at every community meeting. Roosevelt Islanders more than filled that prediction.
Chuck Schumer in Rebecca Seawright’s Backyard
Yes, it was that casual. “America’s Majority Leader” arrived in a polo shirt, dark chinos and stylish sneakers. Immediately, he’s the wise, avuncular relative with the best jokes.
You kinda feel like you know him, right away.
AM Seawright who organized the get together and supervised a limited guest list gave the senator a warm welcome and, apart from organizing questions, left him the floor.
He started with his personal experience of the January 6th insurrection. He recalled being, at one precarious point, 20 feet from the attackers.
“There’s the big Jew. Let’s get him,” one said.
But he soon whisked that aside with a pledge to get at the truth before handling questions tossed at him with the deftness of a political tennis pro.
For the most part, questions and the requests for support that went with them are well known. Many involve healing the pandemic’s devastation, and Schumer was quick and insightful, detailing efforts at meeting the challenges.
PPP aid for small businesses, support for vocational schools, affordable housing and SALT tax cuts — all got a hearing.
Considerable solutions, he said, were embedded in the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package. Both are challenges he and President Biden hope to push through congress before the August recess.
Probably the most helpful point, though, was his description of how a filibuster “carve out” might work in getting voting rights passed. It requires making constitutional issues an exception to filibuster, just as budget issues are.
Senator, meet Roosevelt Island
To Seawright’s credit, an impactful group of Roosevelt Island activists were there. While community-based groups were also present, none came as a whole neighborhood block.
In a dramatic moment, former RIRA Common Council President Matthew Katz made clear to Chuck Schumer that Roosevelt Island’s plight is unique in America.
“That’s not American democracy,” he said, punctuating his story.
Katz along with others, especially in the Maple Tree Group, fought and won local representation on RIOC‘s board. A crucial element is elections every four years, keeping the board fresh and responsive.
But, Katz pointed out, Governor Cuomo rejected those hard won gains, making the current board the opposite of the legislation intended. Populating it with reliable Yes Men — yes, all men — turned the board into Cuomo’s authoritarian tool.
A factor not mentioned by Katz but critically relevant is the RIOC Tax.
Although the state doesn’t contribute a dime to operations, it collects more than $50 million in taxes from Roosevelt Islanders. Not only does Cuomo give nothing back, local residents are compelled to pay for RIOC’s $30+ million annual spending spree.
Without having a word to say about who or what the state agency it pays for really is.
It’s a brutal double hit unknown anywhere else in America.
Taken aback, Schumer responds…
Although Seawright is acutely aware of Roosevelt Island’s plight, as a local issue, it surprised the Senator. He conceded that his position does not afford direct influence over intensely local problems, but, he suggested, there were ways his office could assist in empowering Seawright’s efforts.
He promised to learn more.
Another Roosevelt Island Voice Heard by Chuck Schumer
Joyce Short, whose books, lectures and articles highlight concerns over what constitutes consent in debates over sex abuse, gave Schumer a quick education on the topic.
Would he support legislation creating a universal legal description of consent? she asked.
The senator was sympathetic, recalling the experiences of women to whom he was close. Sexual abuse, he emphasized, is far more common than recognized and has been for many decades.
But “I need to learn a lot more.”
Cleary, the topic had not been high on his legislative agenda, but Roosevelt Islander Short did her best in putting it there now.
Once again, we see how strong Roosevelt Island is and how aware some electeds, like Seawright, are.
But it’s unlikely that Chuck Schumer ever knew this much. An avid bicyclist, he suggested meeting up with Katz on his next ride around the promenades.
You can bet that Joyce Short will make sure her voice gets heard too.
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