Roosevelt Island is Manhattan’s sane woman in the attic. With its ample green spaces and relaxed vibe, it feels much less like frenzied Manhattan than like an unhip section of Queens (no, that’s no longer a redundancy). Yet although they are parts of the same borough, most folks on the Big Island (as RIers call Manhattan) are unaware of any kinship, or else simply pretend Roosevelt Island doesn’t exist.
It’s a fitting place for Hillary to launch her candidacy, though, because Roosevelt Island – appropriately enough, given who it’s named for — is an excellent example of soft socialism and crony capitalism in action. The entire place is run by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, a state agency rife with corruption, which means that just about everything on the island — from the famous monorail to the clean but drab public housing to the free red bus that runs up and down the two-mile-long, 800-foot-wide splinter of land in the middle of the East River — is owned, operated, and/or planned by RIOC. The inhabitants’ main activity is going to meetings.
To be sure, the island is serene and uncrowded, with numerous parks and ballfields along the waterfront. The views of Manhattan and Queens are so inspiring that not even a platoon of bureaucrats could ruin them. And although there was recently a drug-related shooting, in general crime is quite low (being an island helps; there’s nowhere for a miscreant to flee). But its status as a distant colony of Albany means that things unfold at a decidedly poky pace. It took several years to get a liquor store on the island, and the retail and restaurant options are decidedly inferior to those of a suburban shopping center.
Recently, with RIOC’s blessing, some “luxury” housing has gone up in the southern half of the island, near the Queensboro Bridge. These towers have generous tax abatements; you can shell out a million and a half for your apartment and pay less than $2,000 in taxes. (Rule No. 1 of NYC politics: The real-estate industry always wins.) And of course Roosevelt Island’s old-timers grumble about the newcomers: New Yorkers always complain when their neighborhood improves.
The new buildings attract a lot of diplomats from the United Nations, which is just across the river, along with doctors and administrators from the many nearby hospitals. Meanwhile, south of the bridge, Cornell University (having won a state-run competition) is building a technology-research center. Visitors to this part of the island all say the same thing: “It’s just like a college campus.”
Need any more reason why Roosevelt Island is perfect for Hillary?