Monday, November 3, 2014

Statements From Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Common Council Vice President Candidates - RIRA Election Tuesday November 4

On November 4, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) will be holding elections for its new Common Council building representatives, Vice President and President.

Current RIRA Vice President Sherie Helstien is running against 3 other candidates for Vice President of the new Common Council- Helen Chirivas,  M. Pathak and Sharon Pope. As previously reported, concern has been expressed by some RIRA members that the RIRA Constitution prohibits Ms. Helstien being a candidate for Vice President because she served on the RIRA Election Committee during this election cycle. Ms Helstien replies that these concerns are not valid because she resigned from the Elections Committee and is permitted to run for Vice President.

Below are statements (in alphabetical order) from the the RIRA Vice President Candidates in support of their candidacies.

From Helen Chirivas - RIRA VP Candidate:
Thank you for extending consideration to me in connection with the vote for Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Vice President. I hereby wish to relay some information regarding my accomplishments, and what I would hope to accomplish, should I become RIRA Vice President, as well as what I hope to accomplish for the community.

I am a native of Brooklyn, having been born in the leafy Fort Greene section of that beautiful borough, on Lafayette Avenue near the Brooklyn Academy of Music. When I was a toddler, my family moved to Midwood, Brooklyn, and there I was educated at area public schools until, at the age of 13, I applied and was accepted to the High School of Music and Art (M&A), which was at that time located at 135th Street and Convent Avenue in Manhattan. I was admitted to M&A based on my fine arts portfolio, as well as grades and an interview. Following high school graduation, I graduated from Brooklyn College with a BA in English. While in college, I began working full-time during the day while taking classes at Brooklyn College at night. I followed a progressively responsible career path as an executive secretary, accumulating skills and becoming increasingly technologically adept. My focus was in non-profits, such as at institutions of higher education and at health care settings, areas that I identified as affording the greatest opportunity to help others, although I also gained valuable experience and skills while working for some years at the fast-paced Brooklyn-Long Island-Staten Island (BLISI) Mortgage Operations area of Citibank until the functions of that unit were transferred to St. Louis. My career then led me to a position for many years at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) as the executive secretary in the office of a physician-scientist, assisting him in the scholarly aspects of his career, such as preparation of textbook chapters, manuscripts and protocols, and development, as well as being the assistant often responsible for relaying his wishes to patients and the many different stake-holders in that large organization, while also ensuring that all aspects of his practice functioned together effectively on an ongoing basis. One measure of his success, to which I may have contributed to some small degree, is the fact that he never suffered a malpractice law suit in the 20+ years we were together. When he left MSKCC to accept a leadership opportunity at another fine hospital in Philadelphia, my MSKCC career also ended. After approximately 22 years on the job at MSKCC, I now devote much of my time to community, voluntary activities.

My involvement with community affairs on RI began in 2008, with the sub metering controversy at Roosevelt Landings (RL). I helped the RL Residents Association (RLRA) coordinate a campaign voicing opposition to the way sub metering was planned by the building owner, Urban American. In an effort to garner more community support, I ran for a position as district delegate on the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) and was elected from RL. The tenants association, with the help of RIRA and elected officials, managed to forestall what would have been the punitively expensive implementation of sub metering. The subsequent developments at RL include improvements by the owner with regard to installing modern thermostats, the replacement of windows, and many other efforts undertaken to minimize the financial impact of sub metering at RL.

My husband and I then moved to another development on Roosevelt Island, called Island House (IH). IH, currently in the process of privatizing since exiting the Mitchell-Lama program and converting to cooperative ownership, also has an active tenants association, called the Island House Tenants Association (IHTA). Because of the complexity and crucial importance of this coop conversion, I began to attend IHTA meetings. A key component of the IH conversion is the implementation of sub metering at IH. Sub metering at IH has been negotiated by IHTA with the owner in the context of the conversion agreement and will only be implemented after significant upgrades are put in place at the building, such as window and insulation replacement. There is a question as to whether the owner will upgrade the baseboard electrical heating units in the apartments, which are original to the building and as such are by now technologically out-of-date. The IH cooperative conversion process has been ongoing for many years, and was the culmination of complex multi-party negotiations, between the owner, RIOC, IHTA, and Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). I will continue to be involved in this ongoing process, bringing forward the concerns of the many tenants like myself and my husband who may prefer to continue to rent instead of purchase their apartments.

In January of 2013, the Roosevelt Island community was horrified to learn of the Anthony Jones beating case. A young Roosevelt Islander named Anthony Jones who, in fact, was not charged with any crime, had been the victim of public safety over-enforcement in an unfortunate, nearly tragic, encounter with Peace Officers, also termed Public Safety Officers (PSOs) of the Roosevelt Island Public Safety Department (PSD). The beating led to a public outcry on Roosevelt Island, including an educational campaign, culminating in two well-attended community demonstrations, organized by the RIRA Public Safety Committee (PSC). The emotion and energy released by the community effort was critical in leading, in June 2013, to the replacement of the Director of PSD, who was thought to have condoned the beating of Jones. Although prior to January 2013, my focus was primarily on housing issues as they related to the privatization process of island developments, in January 2013, I, like many others, became involved in the effort to reform and develop a more community-oriented PSD. Thankfully, the new Director of PSD, Jack McManus, is more community-oriented and PSD over-enforcement problems have largely disappeared since June 2013. RIRA PSC is continuing to pursue a campaign of education in connection with the overall reform of PSD as suggested in a 2013 independent audit of PSD.

I have participated in the activities of a number of RIRA Committees since my election as district delegate, initially from RL and later from IH, such as the Housing Committee (also Housing Committee Chair 2010-2012), the Island Services Committee (ISC), the Planning Committee, and the Constitution and Bylaws (C/B) Committee, participating in all aspects of the work of these committees, including many times, offering my notes to committee chairs for their use in Minutes, contacting officials at RIOC, developing positions on issues, and in the case of the C/B Committee, working collaboratively with the committee co-members to overhaul the RIRA C/B. I coordinated the February 20, 2014 visit of a delegation from Roosevelt Island which included the RIRA Treasurer and the Planning Committee Chair, Frank Farance, to the Ravenswood Generating Station in Long Island City, Queens. I am a member of the Planning Committee work-group focusing on air quality (AQ) issues on RI, a long-standing community concern that became more acute with the community’s concerns regarding the Cornell-Technion project’s impact on AQ on Roosevelt Island. In this capacity, I contacted the scientists at Queens College (QC) who conduct the New York City Community Air Survey (NYCCAS) about our community’s AQ concerns and put Mr. Farance in touch with them so that information could be exchanged as to the best way to conduct AQ monitoring on Roosevelt Island. Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Farance, working collaboratively with the QC scientists, an AQ monitoring program within the NYCCAS system was proposed to RIOC, which would include the installation of several AQ monitoring devices on Roosevelt Island. I intend to continue to extend my assistance to Mr. Farance and the RIRA Planning Committee on the AQ issue and other matters of community concern, including land use and emergency preparedness issues, on an ongoing basis, as well as continue my efforts with regard to housing and public safety issues, within the context of the respective RIRA committees. In addition to my IH district delegate status, at the RIRA Common Council (CC) Meeting, on March 5, 2014, I was elected by a vote of unanimous approval to the position of RIRA Secretary.

My interest in the RIRA Vice Presidency stems from my involvement in community issues on Roosevelt Island. I am deeply concerned about the ongoing success and viability of the Roosevelt Island community, conceived as a visionary experiment in the 1969, in a joint partnership between the City and State of New York, under the leadership of then Mayor Lindsay and Governor Rockefeller. I strongly believe in the concept espoused in Roosevelt Island’s General Development Plan (GDP) which called for the founding of a mixed-income community based on the development of both affordable and middle-class housing for residents of modest means including the elderly and disabled, as well as the provision of market rate housing for more well-off residents.

I see myself as an advocate for the Roosevelt Island community, as described above, and if elected to the RIRA Vice Presidency, I would continue my involvement in community affairs so as to bring residents’ concerns to the table at RIRA. If elected, I am ready to accept the honor and responsibility of the RIRA Vice Presidency at this critical juncture in the development of Roosevelt Island, a time of great change for our community resulting from the ongoing construction at Southtown and at the Cornell-Technion campus. Together, we can work to meet the upcoming challenges and improve the lives of everyone on Roosevelt Island.

Thank you for your time and attention to my Statement.
From Sherie Helstien-RIRA VP Candidate
Having taken a year and a-half off from serving on RIRA, I returned this past March and was able to take an empty seat on the Common Council representing Westview. I was nominated and voted into the position of Vice President serving under Jeff Escobar who had taken over the position of president of the organization upon the resignation of RIRA President Polivy.

Over the past 17 years, I have served on RIRA, first as a delegate from Manhattan Park and later from Westview. I have been very active in the organization:

- Helping create the Legal Action Fund Committee whose sole purpose was to fight the way development was taking place in what we all knew was coming in Southtown. The residents failed to win the legal fights in the courts as we were deemed as “without standing”.

- Becoming Housing Chair and created a Renters’ Insurance Fair which emanated from an apartment fire in what was then known as Eastwood. The residents of that apartment thought, mistakenly, that the management would replace their lost belongings. I saw a need to educate the community about their rights and responsibilities as renters. It was a successful two-day event to which I was able to bring in to speak to the audience, among many others, the State Insurance Commissioner.

- Fundraising for RIRA (many of you have bought two iterations of hats and visors that I and the SC&E Committee members sold you!), as well as,

- Working the with the PTA to create the “Roosevelt Island International Cookbook” which grew out of wonderful international dishes created and served by mothers of PS/IS217 students at their International Dinners! I think the PTA still has many of these books left, but I and RIRA members sold all of RIRA’s! It was an interesting learning experience in publishing a book.

- Supporting my RIRA colleagues who have put on some marvelous and fun theme parties to bring our community together, as well as our summer evening dances on the Pier, and, as well outdoor movies (before RIOC ever did this);

- I supported RIRA colleagues who created our 9/11 Memorial Garden on the Church Plaza, and worked with them organizing, for several years, the memorial programs we held annually for ten years after that tragic event. We always had a wonderful turnout, and our Special Ops Firefighters on the Island nearly always showed up to participate.

- I’m proud to have worked with the Lynne Shinozaki, our past RIRA Chair of the SC&E Committee on the wonderful Cherry Blossom Festivals she’s produced, and which began the year of the tragic Japanese tsunami and nuclear plant debacle (2011-12?). The first CBF was supposed to be a fundraiser for RIRA, but this community raised nearly $10,000 and RIRA sent every penny, through the Japanese Consulate, to aid agencies in Japan.

- I’m proud to have been part of that period when we’ve had a more positive relationship with RIOC. I hope that we can reclaim that relationship again, soon. I am also proud to have been the person who headed the Public Relations (PR) for our four RIOC Board “elections” (as offered to us by Governor Spitzer) to put on a community plebiscite, putting up candidates as RIOC Board nominees, whose names, in order of votes received, were sent to the Governor’s office for appointment. It’s the closest we’ve been able to come to having a local democratic “process” of direct representation in this bedeviled community.

- I have been active on the Legislative sub-Committee of the Government Relations Committee of RIRA, whose sole purpose has been to try to change the legislation that created RIOC into something that would give back to this community what every other community has: a “say” on how and by whom we are governed, as opposed to being ruled by New York State’s Governor, or as we sometimes refer to it: “the Second Floor”. I am sad to say that we have met with nothing but frustration and deafness from Albany.

I believe that RIRA’s members have done more positive things in the community than some few would recognize. RIRA is an organization of volunteers, of people who have full time jobs, families, sick spouses or kids and other familial responsibilities as well. Newer members who are just “learning the ropes” of how this organization functions, what its limitations are, and what they can do to have a positive impact, have a learning curve that some have tried to use negatively. It takes a clear head and positive attitude to learn who the people are who work with others positively and get things done.

I believe I am the more qualified candidate for Vice President having served on RIRA for 17 years with an understanding of RIRA’s possibilities and its limits.
Have not received statement from RIRA VP candidates Sharon Pope or M. Pathak. Will update with their statements if received.

Here is the list of RIRA Candidates running for Common Council President, Vice President and building representatives.