Where’s the community board’s young boys & girls network?
By Chelsea-Lyn Rudder
I am a 24-year-old member of Community Board 1 and apparently an anomaly.
There have only been a few appointments of 20something members to Community Board 1 in the last few years. The largest increase came in 2007, when out of ten appointments made by Borough President Scott Stringer and Council Member Alan Gerson, three new members were under 30. When Kristen Wentrcek, P.J. Kim and I were appointed, there was excitement around the fact that as new members, we were reflective of the increasing diversity of Lower Manhattan. Along with being young professionals, two of us, P.J. Kim and I, are people of color. “People of color” is the new politically correct term for minorities. Today, over 60% of New Yorkers classify themselves as non-white.
In 2008, Tiffany Winbush and Antonina Simeti were appointed to the board, bringing the grand total of persons 30 and younger to five out of a membership of 50. Not proportional to the number of college students and other young adults living and working in Lower Manhattan, but at least it was a start. But not so fast — as a result of the reappointment process which all community board members must endure every two years, the coalition of ‘80s babies has been cut down to three. Out of the three members whose terms were set to expire, I am the only one who was reappointed.
I have made some worthwhile contributions to the community board in the last two years, but I have to admit that I was a little nervous about the possibility of not being reappointed. With that in mind, I decided to reflect upon my first two years of service in order to highlight some of the rewards and difficulties that new members of any age may experience.
The phrase “showing up is half the battle” in some ways defines life as a community board member. Belonging to at least two committees, each meeting monthly, such as your geographical committee (in my case the Financial District), and an interest-based committee like, Planning and Infrastructure is required. Along with the monthly full board meeting, that is three evening meetings a month. Many members are on more than two committees, and there are numerous other issue-specific meetings that are open for members to attend. One evening a week must be set aside for a two- to three-hour meeting. So for a volunteer position, this is a significant time commitment for the average member. With other commitments -- in my case, work, graduate school, and something that resembles a social life -- it is difficult to make it to every meeting. When warnings began to circulate that attendance levels would be strongly factored into the reappointment process, I took the message to heart.
Community Board 1 can be a difficult place for a newcomer socially, particularly for a younger person who is new to the area. Understanding the inside politics, can be daunting. The strong culture of community involvement in Lower Manhattan spreads beyond the board to political clubs, parent teacher associations, and tenant/home owner associations. The alliances, coalitions and enemies cross those boundary lines too. That being said, the new relationships that I have gained through the community board have been important benefits. The friends that I have made through the board along with a broader understanding of the needs of the community have made the entire experience worthwhile.
It can be difficult to distinguish yourself in a social structure, which disproportionately rewards seniority and familiarity. My best advice to new members is to speak up as much as possible, volunteer for assignments, and even run for leadership positions. Chances are you will be ignored and lose the race, but it will make the next time you assert yourself that much easier. The more seasoned board members will begin to put your face with your name, and respect your opinions. In the past two years I have run for two executive board positions. I lost both times. On the second run, against an incumbent, I got significantly more votes than the year before. I wanted both positions, and knew that I was qualified, but both races gave me the opportunity to assert myself as a leader.
Spending evenings voting on advisory resolutions is not glamorous, but it is important. Being a member of Community Board 1 has been a great opportunity. I strongly encourage more young adults to visit our meetings, and to consider applying for appointment next year.
Chelsea-Lyn Rudder, executive director of the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, is a member of Community Board 1.