By Matthew Katz, RIRA President
e-mail: MatthewKatz @ verizon.net
Happy Lincoln’s Birthday, y’all. Does anyone remember when or why we stopped celebrating Abe’s birthday and lumped his birthday, along with Washington’s, into a generic Presidents’ Day? I don’t know, it seems disrespectful somehow.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself alone in the apartment with my wife in town at a voice lesson. I was sitting with my guitars and two cats, playing with both, and staring out my bedroom window. My Westview apartment faces our central courtyard, a forest of old and beautiful trees. They have enchanted us in all seasons, but today they were covered with a mantle of snow with more descending. “How lovely,” I thought, and I was thankful for all the exquisite vistas on our Island, both expected and unexpected. And I reflected, “How lucky we Islanders are!” Don’t you agree?
In my last column, I commented on the departure of DHCR Commissioner and RIOC Chairman of the Board Brian Lawlor. It seems that the reports of his demise were premature. I obtained my information from a WIRE bulletin dated January 20, and if you are signed up to receive them (MainStreetWIRE@usa.net), you did as well. It simply stated that Lawlor wasleaving his post and that a replacement had not been announced. I don’t understand why those in the know who receive the bulletins did not immediately correct the error, but they did not. While pursuing other issues, I learned from several authorities that the bulletin was not accurate. I don’t know what the genesis of this misinformation might have been, but I apologize for helping to sustain the story.
What Do You Think?
We have had several weeks to consider the new Red Bus schedules, the location of the new bus stops, and the synchronization between the buses and the Tram. I know that RIOC is carefully considering the impact of these changes, but I thought RIRA might collect some feedback as well. Consequently, RIRA Planning Committee chair Frank Farance has volunteered to receive your comments and to bring the data t o our planning meetings with RIOC. You always can register your kudos, your gripes, and your suggestions for improvement directly with RIOC Vice President Fernando Martinez, but please also contact Frank by e-mail at email@example.com ( or by calling 1-800-FARANCE). This is a special address created for the sole purpose of receiving your comments.
State of the Borough Address
I attended Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s 2011 State of the Borough Address last Tuesday evening at the CUNY Graduate Center, a first for me. Scott has been more attentive to Roosevelt Island than any of his predecessors in recent memory, and I’m grateful for his interest. As you know, Roosevelt Island is administered by the State of New York but, politically, we are a part of the City and of Manhattan.
The auditorium was packed with a thousand or more New Yorkers, with more in satellite rooms monitoring the event on video screens. An a cappella singing ensemble composed of teens in tuxedos from the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts opened for the Borough President with several doo-wop numbers from the ’50s, complete with choreography and finger-snapping. Strange, watching 21st century kids doing my music, but they were undeniably cool. Many pols came to support the BP, including former Mayor David Dinkins, Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Surprisingly, the hottest chef in Harlem and the City, Marcus Samuelson of the Red Rooster restaurant, was tapped to introduce the Borough President. I guess the Beep likes Danish soul food.
In keeping with his introducer, Stringer’s remarks focused in large part on Harlem, covering the new East Harlem Asthma Center and the expansion of Columbia University into the neighborhood with an emphasis on the jobs that new construction is likely to create. He touched on ideas for improving City schools and the delays in the construction of the Second Avenue subway. Scott explained his role in the controversies around the expansion of the New York University campus into surrounding Greenwich Village. He commented on the moratorium on hydrofracking, a process used to drill for gas in shale deposits that has the potential of polluting our drinking water supply with toxic chemicals. RIRA has supported this moratorium in a resolution and in letters that the Common Council has authorized me to send on their behalf to several involved parties.
In his annual report, Stringer discussed opening up the City’s waterfronts and waterways, an issue dear to my heart. For the past 10 months, I have been involved in Vision 2020, the New York City Department of Planning project to design and implement a Comprehensive Waterfront Plan for the next decade. My goal has been to ensure that Roosevelt Island is included in that plan, especially regarding the potential for ferry transportation and for recreational boating. The final draft of the plan has yet to be released, but I have every expectation that we will be mentioned in those contexts. After all, our Island is nothing but waterfront!
Scott raised the questions of inadequate affordable housing in New York City, another issue that attracts Islanders’ attention, as well as immigrant rights and facilities for seniors. The Borough President has reached out to me, asking to convene a small meeting of Island leaders, to consider some of our problems and long-term issues. I’m working with his staff to expedite that meeting. While it’s true that the State is responsible for much of the decision-making here, our City government, including the Mayor, Borough President, City Council, and Community Board 8 play important roles in our quality of life, and have been critical in, among other things, bringing the MetroCard to the Tram, determining the course of development on the Island, and supporting Island institutions and organizations. We walk a tightrope between the City and State, necessitated by the 99-year Master Lease between the two, and often it is RIRA’s task to make sure we maintain our balance. And that, my friends, is a full-time job.