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Clueless in Albany flowing south: Hochul and the RIOC Board

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While we celebrated The Girl Puzzle, last Friday, the next episode of Clueless in Albany was a breakthrough case. And disappointment hit anyone hoping our new governor might smarten up. Instead, the lack of a clue spread south.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Will Clueless in Albany Float More Spinelessness Down the River?

State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright in Lighthouse Park for The Girl Puzzle.

Because The Girl Puzzle came off so well, an historic ribbon-cutting under fair skies in high spirits, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright’s comments were easily missed. But they were completely out of context. And what they implied, in spite of her enthusiasm, oozed disappointment.

She’d been talking with Governor Kathy Hochul, she said, about appointing a new RIOC Board Member. There’s an opening, she said. That’s off by a mile, but also, any appointment without a vote is another Cuomo-style kick in the teeth for Roosevelt Islanders.

How RIOC Board’s Out of Sight Switch Benefits Hudson Related

Hochul’s pledge of cleaning up the state and increasing transparency already failed at finding its way 150 miles south. But this pretty much promised it never will, at least not under this governor.

A step back…

Since the day Andrew Cuomo stepped heavy-footed into office, hopes that he’d continue the plan for resident voting on RIOC Board Members soaked in the chilly waters of indifference. And resistance from one President/CEO after another, demanded from Albany, was steadfast. The state continued collecting tens of millions from Roosevelt Islanders every year, returning far less and denying any say in operations.

Matthew Katz, who helped lead the successful charge for democracy, a decade ago, even brought the issue up with Senator Chuck Schumer in a group session at Seawright’s office, last summer. But unless she misspoke, for the assembly member, it was as if it never happened.

But in reality, she’s heard an earful about returning voting rights to Roosevelt Islanders countless times, including from this writer. In short, she knows. The idea that RIOC would collect almost all of its operating revenues from Roosevelt Island, then slam the door on influence, is as un-American as it gets. Yet, it’s the reality we live with.

Appointment after board appointment came down the Hudson, hopped over Manhattan and landed on Main Street without collecting a single vote. Senator José Serrano’s office, too, told us that “Hochul’s (nameless) people” talked about appointments. No names and, especially, no voting came up, although local residents kept pounding on the doors.

The State of the Board

What the recent outbreak of Clueless in Albany implies is, not just a failure to respect the rights of residents, but a profound ignorance of basic details.

First, there isn’t just one vacancy. There are five. Only the newest RIOC Board members, Conway Ekpo and Dave Kapell, serve active four year terms. The appointments of David Kraut, Howard Polivy and Michael Shinozaki expired long ago, but Cuomo kept them on as holdovers, never appointing replacements. It was a nifty anti-democracy dodge by the tyrannical governor with a sharp eye for loyalists.

Another seat requires a recommendation from the mayor before the governor moves. With Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo in office, that little piece of harmony went out of tune for a decade. And Jeffrey Escobar added seat #5 when he resigned after a move to Long Island City.

The state of the board, then, has become an aloof congress of reliable “Yes” men willing to do Albany’s bidding while turning a blind eye to residents. The results? Massive overstaffing and bloated paydays built on political patronage; unblinking acceptance of scandals like the Swift Rapid COVID Rapid Testing deal; an insider takeover of executive offices; entrenched nepotism; and the crushing of historic community groups like the Roosevelt Island Youth Program.

The list goes on, enhanced under Cuomo, with no sign of change at any turn.

Clueless in Albany Conclusion

With Seawright’s suggestion of appointments without votes and Serrano’s silence in place, for now, hope for any change within the executive chamber, where unnamed operators actually run RIOC, is for incurable optimists only. With a deft and well-liked politician – Seawright – and Serrano, through whose chamber all board appointments must pass, retaining postures of Cuomo-like allegiance, there is no one upstream helping Roosevelt Islanders get some sayso in respect for their contributed millions coughed up, year after year.

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