Who Speaks For Rockaway?
The Wave has asked this quintessential question again and again over the past 25 years, generally at times when somebody from outside the peninsula comes along to tell Rockaway residents what they should be doing to make the peninsula a better place in which to live. While the question is clear, the answer to the question has always been somewhat murky, muddied up by politics, by the makeup of Rockaway – one small peninsula with dozens of communities, each with its own agenda for maintaining the status quo – and by law. Of course, our elected city, state and federal officials are chosen to represent us, to make the laws that govern us, to speak for their constituents. While they do have a right to act for us, do they, however, speak for us? The fact that they don’t necessarily reflect the general will of the people was seen just last month, when hundreds of Rockaway residents from all over the peninsula loudly booed Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his DOT officials on the bike lane issue. First, his administration refused to accept community input and then lied when faced with opposition, saying that the community never voiced any opposition to the program. Similarly, many other elected officials on the city, state and federal level seem more interested in pushing their own agendas and lining their own pockets than they are in listening to what Rockaway residents have to say. We do, of course, have the local community board, a group that is supposed to be the liaison between community and government, but they are chosen by those same politicians who refuse to listen to us. When was the last time a city agency listened to what the community board had to say. Why this comes up now is because of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance (RWA). The group has been going through its own “what Rockaway needs” listening tour, holding meetings to detail “a future vision of Rockaway.” RWA’s president, Jeanne Dupont, seems to be able to get action when nobody else can. The Manhattan woman, who bought a long-unused bungalow a few years ago and now considers herself a Rockaway expert, has committees and subcommittees, the Trust for Public Land and the mayor’s office on her side. What is her vision? If you were at the last meeting, you would have heard the call for more bike lanes, not only east to west, but bay to beach; other bike enhancements to make the peninsula more “biker friendly.” We would argue that the RWA’s vision of Rockaway is not what Rockaway needs, or even wants. It is the agenda of a group focused on one small piece of the puzzle and then demanding that the rest of the peninsula somehow fit everything else around that piece of the puzzle. That is fine, but that it then insists that its agenda should also be Rockaway’s agenda speaks to the problem we face. Who truly should speak for Rockaway? It is not a purely Socratic question. It could well determine the future of the peninsula and all of those who live in its relatively small and secluded area.