For the first time, Mayor Eric Adams sat and listened carefully as Roosevelt Islanders shared their concerns. State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright arranged the meeting and sat in as moderator while Adams’s leadership skills took center stage.
by David Stone
It was an interesting contrast as Roosevelt Island‘s most consistent elected supporter, Seawright, introduced the mayor to a community with which he had little prior connection. Adams’s charisma was evident but, more importantly, so were his listening skills. He absorbed what he heard, took it seriously and arranged for a follow-up through Seawright’s office.
A little strangeness settled nearby but did not become a distraction. RIOC President/CEO Shelton Haynes joined the pair at the head table but failed to share a single public utterance. Although many concerns involved the board of directors, he added nothing in support or insight. But throughout, he smiled with real distinction.
Community leadership is crucial. Mayor Adams’s openness and willingness to connect are good signs for the future. It was a pleasure to see him in action.
Mayor Adams’s visit included a limited tour of the Island that culminated with a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tram. The Mayor was impressed with what he saw and commented on the potential for further development.
What Did Mayor Adams Learn?
Seawright brought several dozen community members to the gathering for a meeting hosted by the Carter Burden Network in the Roosevelt Island Senior Center. They represented an expansive, inclusive range of perspectives. (A complete video of the meeting is available at the end of this article.)
Here are the highlights:
- Former RIOC Board Member Margie Smith asked Mayor Adams to do what Mayor Bill de Blasio never did: appoint two board members as assigned in RIOC’s enabling legislation. Smith stressed that both should be residents. She has previously advocated for new voices and ideas on the board.
- Activist Sherry Helstien made an appeal for direct elections for the board, voicing a longstanding community passion for democracy. That decision, though, is with the state, but she got it clearly and smartly on the agenda. Perhaps Adams’s voice can move the effort along.
- On the lighter, brighter, community-building side, Mayor Adams was asked to lend his support for Pickleball courts on Roosevelt Island. Vicki Feinmel had suggested it, citing the advantages in the public session of a spring board meeting, but nothing was done. The sport has built-in inclusivity for all ages, unlike other sports.
Main Street Democrats leader Joyce Short also spoke up about the current districting project as did historian Judith Berdy and former Residents Association President Matthew Katz. Assembly Member Seawright’s office was tasked with compiling a list of issues for Mayor Adams’s follow-up.
Influenced by Seawright’s well-established connections with the community, Adams listened as much as he spoke. It was an example others might learn from. No challenge unsettled him nor did he at any time dodge any issue. The proof of his leadership will show itself – or not – down the road, but he’s off to a strong start with Roosevelt Islanders.
After eight years of waiting for his predecessor to show up, Mayor Adams’s being on time was impressive. It showed respect for constituents few elected officials honor.
With countless other New York communities vying for the mayor’s attention, Roosevelt Island would never have gotten this attention without Rebecca Seawright. At an Albany hearing earlier this year, the assembly member took an opportunity to invite the mayor for a get-acquainted session with the community. It’s a credit to both – with a shoutout to Council Member Julie Menin for her support – that it succeeded.
A brief tour took Mayor Adams through the Roosevelt Island NYPL branch and on down Main Street to the Tram for a first ride. His physical fitness was on display as many of the rest of us sucked wind trying to keep up.