In January, State Senator Liz Krueger took over a redesigned district that consumes a huge chunk of Manhattan, including Roosevelt Island on the eastern border. After giving her time to work through a hectic legislative session, we asked her to answer some questions that let Roosevelt Islanders learn a little more about her.
Following are her unedited answers.
by David Stone
The Daily: Overview of senatorial district, its elements and how Roosevelt Island fits in your point of view?
Senator Liz Krueger: The 28th State Senate district which I represent is quite eclectic. It includes multiple residential, commercial, and mixed-use neighborhoods, transportation hubs including Penn and Grand Central Stations, cultural centers like the Met Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall and Broadway, academic institutions like Cornell Tech and Hunter College, green spaces like Central Park, and many hospitals, both private and public.
Geographically, the fact that Roosevelt Island is a smaller island off the bigger island makes it a bit unique but the issues that concern my constituents are similar. Of course, RIOC acting as the “city manager” of Roosevelt Island means that instead of dealing with City and State agencies, Roosevelt Island residents must rely on RIOC to maintain their infrastructure, public safety and parks.
Role as Chair of committee overseeing RIOC board nominations and approvals. Can you explain how that works and how you see your role?
The Finance Committee of the NYS Senate, of which I am Chair, considers and votes on all the Governor’s appointments to state boards—RIOC’s board is one of many. Our committee considers the Governor’s appointments for the MTA Board, the Parole Board, and dozens of others.
The Governor’s office chooses nominees and conducts the full vetting process. While some nominees are asked to appear before the Finance Committee to respond to questions, the overwhelming majority are simply voted on after reviewing the paperwork provided by the Governor’s office.
Once the Senate approves a nominee, the individual can be seated as a member of the particular board.
We understand that you played a role in bringing RIOC’s new board members to the governor’s attention as well. Can you outline the process and, significantly, how these individuals earned your okay? This matters because Roosevelt Island sorely lacks leadership and local political groups.
Our office, like many, was aware of the vacancies on the Board. We also knew Governor Hochul was eager to fill her two empty seats.
My staff and I proactively reached out to community groups and leaders on the Island requesting potential names of residents for me to forward to the Governor’s office for consideration. We sought people who are active on the Island, have relevant professional and/or volunteer experience, and can provide independent oversight as RIOC Board members.
Conversations with community members led us to two people who are active and engaged in Island activities, Ben Fhala and Dr. Michal Melamed.
A member of my staff requested their resumes and met with them individually since I spent the majority of my time in Albany this spring.
Ben has professional experience with web design and communications, and Michal is a supervising physician at a hospital and has a long history of volunteer involvement on Roosevelt Island. We’d heard from constituents that the absence of a health care facility and pediatrician on the island was a great concern. We also understand that many believe communication between RIOC and the community is challenged.
Both Ben and Michal presented professional experience combined with extensive engagement in, and love for, the Roosevelt Island community. This convinced me they would be able to enrich and contribute to the RIOC Board, and I sent their resumes and letters of interest to the Governor’s staff.
The third nominee, Lydia Tang, who is one of the Mayor’s two representatives on the RIOC Board, was also approved by the Finance Committee after being vetted by the Governor’s office.
Would you be amenable to a new process that allows input from Roosevelt Islanders in nominating or approving new board members before they go to the senate for approvals?
The Senate Finance Committee can only consider nominees once the Governor has vetted potential nominees and submitted names to the Senate. It’s also important to remember that the Governor is not under any obligation to accept any names I suggest.
Having said that, if and when the Governor’s office asks for suggestions for additional RIOC Board seats, my staff and I will again proactively reach out to as many Roosevelt Island community members as possible to obtain input.
How do you see your role in RIOC’s management and operations?
RIOC is a public benefit corporation which has a professional staff, and a Board with the responsibility to provide oversight over its management, operations, and finances.
While I do not have any jurisdiction over RIOC’s day to day management and operations, it is extremely important to me that RIOC has an effective and independent Board in place that is responsive to Islanders’ needs and concerns.
I also have a long-term working relationship with the HCR Commissioner, RuthAnne Visnauskas, who is the Chair of the RIOC Board. Since January, I have had a number of conversations with Commissioner Visnauskas about a range of issues that have been brought to my attention by Roosevelt Island community members.
I also had a productive introductory meeting with RIOC President Shelton Haynes. I will continue to have ongoing conversations, open communication, and active engagement with both RIOC and Islanders.
Changing gears a little, can you comment on the trends in New York’s changing political environment? Is the state really becoming more progressive or is a media illusion?
I often tell people that when I joined the Senate 21 years ago, I was considered one of the most liberal members of the Senate Democratic conference. Although my politics haven’t changed much, today I am seen as much more of a moderate.
I am proud to be part of a diverse Democratic party in New York that includes elected officials with a wide range of perspectives from urban, suburban, and rural communities.
Roosevelt Island no longer has an organized leadership similar to what the Residents Association used to provide. At least some of that can be traced to the Governor and RIOC undermining their efforts, although there’s plenty of blame to go around. Any suggestions on how the community can promote new, diverse leadership that has clout?
Of course, I’ve only been representing Roosevelt Island since January so I do not know what came before. However, I’ve spoken to Rosanna Ceruzzi, RIRA’s President, a number of times and believe she plans to invite me to speak at a RIRA meeting in the coming months.
It’s my understanding there will be a RIRA election in November.
During my limited time representing Roosevelt Island, I’ve met many active and engaged people and organizations. There seems to be a good deal of leadership but it may be focused on specific interests—coop boards, tenant associations, Main Street Theater and Dance, Island Kids, RISA, RIDA, RIVAA, the Historic Society, Idig2learn, the Garden Club, Girl Scouts, Little League, PTAs, Cornell Tech Community Advisory Board, the religious communities are all led and /or staffed by Islanders.
Some of the new businesses on Main Street, Island Om and Mediterranean Eatery, are Island-owned businesses. There seems to be an enthusiastic level of community engagement but I understand this does not always translate to political involvement.
It’s my understanding that in the 2020 Presidential election only about 2000 votes were cast by Roosevelt Islanders—so the lack of participation is not just at the RIRA level.
I always want to remind people how important it is to be civically and politically engaged.
What’s the best way for residents to reach your office when they have problems or need help? Will you have regular constituent hours here?
We have regular constituent hours on Roosevelt Island—on the last Wednesday of every month, Audrey Berman Tannen, my District Office Director (full disclosure-she is also a long-time Island resident) is at the Carter Burden Senior Center from 10:30am-12:30pm. We have already helped a number of constituents with housing and other issues.
My office phone number is 212-490-9535 and email is email@example.com. My office is generally open Monday-Friday from 9:30-5:30pm and we are always happy to hear from constituents.
I recommend people get on our email list-we send out notifications of the many Town Halls we host, as well as updates on the happenings in Albany and around the district. Anyone can be added to the email list by calling or emailing my office or filling out a web form at https://www.lizkrueger.com/.
Senator Liz Krueger’s comments reflect a surprising awareness of Roosevelt Island as a community after such a short tenure. What also struck us was her openness and willingness to consider other opinions while sharing her own.
She opens an avenue giving residents more clout in controlling the community’s present as well as its future.