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The RIRA Column - March 12, 2011

posted Mar 21, 2011, 1:29 PM by Ava Dawson   [ updated Mar 21, 2011, 5:04 PM by Vinicius Fortuna ]

By Matthew Katz, RIRA President

I’d like to introduce my wife, Sherie Helstien, who has served for most of the past 10 years as Secretary of the RIRA Common Council. Among other responsibilities, she has had to prepare the minutes of every monthly meeting during her tenure, to create the permanent record of what we do – a thankless task. She has also been instrumental in much of the fundraising we’ve done over the years. You may recall the spiffy baseball caps with the Tram logo that we sold several years ago. Sherie designed them, negotiated an order for a gross and sold every one. Over the course of a year, she edited an International Cookbook that included recipes from the PS/IS 217 international dinners and was decorated with artwork by the children. We shared the proceeds with the PTA. And last June, she produced and performed in a concert to raise money for the almost-empty RIRA coffers that included off-Island opera singers who volunteered their time to help a friend. I’m married to a whirlwind.

This term, Sherie is again involved with projects to enhance our youth programs, and with the first of what I hope will be many meetings of the resident RIOC Board members, the RIRA Common Council, and you. I’ll let her tell you about them... 

A Scintillating Saturday

Saturday was quite a busy day with Island arts galore. Gallery RIVAA celebrated its 10th anniversary in the former Bigelow Pharmacy space with a new exhibition, Vernissage 10. Do yourself a favor and go! Starting simultaneously, the R&R Concert series sponsored a student recital at the Good Shepherd Community Center. There were some very difficult and challenging pieces attempted, and the kids performed them with brio. Bravo to all!

For me, the highlight of the day was a wine and cheese “mixer” hosted by RIRA delegate Lynne Shinozaki, designed to bring the resident RIOC directors together with RIRA members in an informal setting. To remind you, the Maple Tree Group, a sub-committee of the RIRA Government Relations Committee, devised and executed two “elections” in 2008 and 2009 that offered this community’s choices to the governor for his appointment to the RIOC Board. It is RIRA’s intention to mount a follow-up election in 2012, in conjunction with the RIRA elections, to fill expired seats on the Board.

Now that the resident Board must answer to a Roosevelt Island electorate, we thought it was not too soon to introduce these folks, volunteers all, to the RIRA Common Council and, eventually, to you, the community, prior to those elections. These neighbors make decisions for our $30-million-a-year Public Authority, a daunting task. We thought, “Wouldn’t the electorate make better-educated decisions at the polls if they got to know the directors – who they are and what they do?”

This first event was organized under the auspices of the RIRA Social, Cultural and Educational Services (SC&E) Committee, chaired by Lynne. Five Board members took the time Saturday evening to join the group: Fay Christian, Kathie Grimm, Howard Polivy, Margie Smith, and Lynne’s husband, Michael. We hope that directors Jon Kalkin and David Kraut will participate in future events.

The point of this and future meetings is to discuss (cordially) the issues and problems that will shape the future of our community. As I’ve said, the intention is to include you, the Island’s residents, in the discussion. These folks participated in the experiment of creating an elected Board when there was no guarantee that the governor would abide by our choices, and they deserve our respect. Each election is a tiny step closer to our goal of a Board entirely and directly elected by us that may hire and fire RIOC presidents (a requirement of the RIOC bylaws, only recently implemented).

The discussion was free-ranging and casual. I won’t go into a great deal of detail, but one of the telling moments of the evening was the comment by a director that s/he had literally to remind RIOC that the Board doesn’t answer to management; just the opposite! This is a welcome and relatively new understanding of the relationship between this corporate Board and the management team, albeit a government public-benefit corporation. One specific item that I can share with you: We learned that, some time in April, we should have a signed term-sheet allowing a “Master Lessor” to start filling our empty Main Street stores with retail merchants.

SC&E Committee

The peripatetic Lynne Shinozaki and her Social, Cultural and Educational Services Committee are working on several fronts to enhance programs for Island youth. In conjunction with RIOC, we are creating “Skate Roosevelt Island,” a skating experience for the community. We hope to have this project incorporated into RIOC’s Health and Fitness Day in May. RIRA will benefit financially from concessions and skate rentals, and we are looking for volunteers from the community to make this happen. Another developing project is “Bounce,” a late-evening basketball program for older teens and young adults. Again, the subcommittee is forming, and needs volunteers. A third program we’re considering is “GarageBandNYC.” This is a contemporary music-mentoring program for children and young adults, bringing musical professionals together with aspiring young people in a comprehensive program that encourages creation of small musical groups or bands, and ends each year with a “battle of the bands.” We are looking for volunteers, especially among musical professionals.

And a fourth project, among many others, is a kite festival to be held in the (hopefully windy) spring that, in addition to just being fun, would celebrate Middle Eastern culture, where kite flying is popular and competitive. If you think you’d like to participate in any of these programs, please contact our chair, Lynne Shinozaki, at lynnestrong@hotmail.com or 212-754-1408.

Some Details

Thank you, Madam Secretary. Our efforts to collect data on the Tram and Red Bus schedules continue. As I’ve told neighbors, relating stories to me on the street doesn’t amass a record. These apocryphal accounts won’t make a case as we work to tweak this system. Send your comments to transportationfeedback@riraonline.com if you want to make a difference.

Public Safety Director Keith Guerra has made good on a promise to the RIRA Public Safety Committee. As the weather improves with the advent of spring, more and more Islanders will be dusting off their bicycles. Should your tires require a shot of air, a manual pump is available to Island bikers at the Pubic Safety office at 552 Main Street.

Courtesy of the RIRA Communications Committee, the RIRA website is up and running. It is our intention to provide information, RIRA-centric and otherwise, including a comprehensive calendar of Island events. This is a work in progress, folks, but keystroke www.riraonline.com and watch it develop.

An Island Tragedy

As last weekend waned, we learned that a neighbor, a young man living in Manhattan Park, had taken his own life. The details are still murky and, as I write this, his name has yet to be released. It is easy to hear of this and move on; New York is a huge, impersonal metropolis where violent death is not the exception. However, Roosevelt Island is the exception. We expect a different quality of life, a safer one, and with a different response to the tragedies of unknown neighbors. We can mourn the loss of a young life, unfulfilled, without knowing his name or his story. John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions provides clarity here:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for who the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

On behalf of the RIRA Common Council and this community, I extend my condolences to the family and friends of my unknown neighbor.



Republished by arrangement with the writer and The Main Street WIRE.  Past RIRA Columns and an archive of 15 years of The Main Street WIRE are available on Website NYC10044 at http://nyc10044.com.
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