Rebecca Seawright, Women of Distinction

Gov. Hochul endorsed AM Seawright: What does it mean for Roosevelt Island?


Governor Kathy Hochul endorsed State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright for reelection on Thursday. The only surprise was that it hadn’t happened sooner.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

When Governor Hochul Endorsed AM Seawright

Assembly Member Seawright – Center, in Blue – toured Roosevelt Island Day with Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney in June.

Rebecca Seawright is a gregarious politician who connects with everyone. Over the years of Hochul’s term as Lieutenant Governor, the pair crossed paths many times. So, it was inevitable they’d bond in common cause as each seeks reelection, next year.

But while the endorsement is important, happening during the news lull during Christmas season dulls the impact somewhat.

Seawright, Hochul said, “…is a trailblazer and fierce advocate – leading major sustainability initiatives, fighting for affordable housing, and securing funding for public schools.” But that’s not quite right.

As the first woman winning the 76th Assembly District – and winning it again, twice – Seawright is a trailblazer. Her dedication to getting laws passed supporting women doesn’t get the press it deserves. And that’s because of something she is not. Hochul endorsed Seawright as a “fierce advocate.” But, publicly at least, she’s anything but fierce.

In fact, one of Seawright’s greatest strengths is her lack of ferocity, her somewhat black and blue reelection campaign in 2020 notwithstanding. Her immediate impression is sunny and gentle, and neither attribute fades completely when things turn serious.

By in personality and style, she is a consensus builder, deeply committed to sharing recognition and celebrating partnerships. If she’s fierce, the fire is internal, passionate and not divisive.

A personal reflection…

When I met one-on-one with the assembly member in July, the first question she asked was about what I was listening to on my headphones while waiting for her outside Nisi. This, after The Daily harshly criticized her reelection campaign tactics. And from some follow up questions, I gathered that she thought I might be a Republican.

Full Disclosure: As a reporter, I’m “None Of The Above,” but in real life, I’ve been a Democrat since my first vote for Hubert Humphrey over Richard Nixon. And the music was Classic Rock. And loud.

But What Does It Mean for Roosevelt Island?

After multiple conversations with Seawright and her staff, verbal and digital, it’s clear that she’s well versed in Roosevelt Island’s most consequential issues. Two stand out.

Since her first term in office, she teamed with State Senator José Serrano, introducing legislation requiring RIOC’s president to live on the Island she or he leads. But in the past legislative season, when the bill first had a realistic chance of passing into law, they dropped it. Both acts appeared grossly political.

Although the law is of dubious value, some local activists have pushed for it for years, believing it would reduce the tensions from remote management. But while reducing the talent pool, the law, if passed, would do little at changing RIOC governance. The state agency’s executives get their orders from nameless officials in the executive chamber in Albany. The feckless compliance of locals already on the board tells us that living here is of little consequence in how things are run.

Seawright’s commitment amounted to a promise of talking things over with Serrano’s office, which appears to be a stall. And, for all intents, a good one.

But then, there’s the voting issue…

When Hochul endorsed Seawright, was she also endorsing the single most critical issue for the future of Roosevelt Island?

In the administrations immediately preceding Andrew Cuomo’s, respect for Roosevelt Islanders’ rights for having a say in how RIOC manages ran high. And, probably the most salient result was an island-wide election for members of the board, which – putatively, at least – manages the business.

Grounded, effective and respected Roosevelt Islanders, like Margie Smith and Fay Christian, joined the board, giving it life and vigor. (Yes, pre-Cuomo, women were allowed to serve.) Consequential debates happened publicly at board meetings. But over time, Cuomo whittled all that down to a listless board of enablers. Residents lost all effective influence, even while forced into underwriting most of the the budget.

Neither Seawright nor Serrano are foolish enough to oppose residents voting for board membership, but both are realists. Battling Cuomo on the issue would have been a lost cause, draining energy to no effect. But what now with Hochul in office?

She endorsed Seawright, but will Governor Hochul now endorse the nod to democracy that everyone knows is right? Yes, even Cuomo knew it, but he was, also, not a democracy advocate. Let’s assume, for now, that Hochul is – and Seawright too.

The only proof comes in the question of how soon the voting machines are set up on Roosevelt Island, reinforced by a pledge to honor the results

The clock is ticking.

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