by Nicole Rodriguez & Lauren Schuster, Asst. Production Editor & Social Media Editor
Members of the Riverdale community filed into Kelly Commons this weekend to have their voices heard at an open budget forum held by state senator Alessandra Biaggi. As the newly elected representative of New York’s 34th district, which covers part of the Bronx and Westchester county, Biaggi discovered that there had never been an open forum about budget concerns in the Bronx section of her district before. She decided her constituents needed to be heard, and Kelly Commons was the perfect place to do it.
“I love Manhattan College,” Biaggi said. “I mean, Riverdale specifically is a portion of my district where there’s lots and lots and lots of voices that represent the entirety of the Bronx, who live here. And as time goes on, we’ll go of course to different locations but specifically now, I think this was a really fitting location.”
Biaggi is no stranger to Manhattan College. With both of her parents being MC alumni, she has spent a great deal of time on the campus in her life.
“Manhattan College is a place where curiosity is valued, and also a place where innovation and new ways of being are supported, and that is the type of space that I want to hold these dialogues in, because it means that the environment is supportive of the end goal here, which is to transform systems that have historically been broken,” Biaggi said. “You have to be aligned with the place that you’re in, so it’s not just the familial, it’s that too. That piece is like the most important piece.”
Biaggi hopes to usher in a new era of transparency with her constituents about budgets and beyond.
“The most important thing that an elected official or leader in the community can do is show up and have important, meaningful dialogues about the things that impact their lives, and the budget is one of those topics that is so complex and so challenging and historically, at least in the borough of the Bronx, there hasn’t been meaningful dialogue about it and there hasn’t been transparency around it,” Biaggi said.
All constituents were welcome to attend the hearing to ensure that their budget priorities be heard as the state legislature begins its work on the state budget for 2019. Each person was allowed to express their concerns for 5 minutes and submit written statements to Senator Biaggi. Topics discussed ranged from campaign finance reform, the film tax credit, Medicaid, homelessness, housing, weatherization, youth programs, accessibility, public school funding, criminal justice reform, the environment and small businesses.
One of the constituents in attendance was Margaret Groarke, P.h.D., a professor in MC’s political science department.
“I really think it’s important for elected officials to hear from their constituents, and this is a great opportunity for us to let her know what’s important to us in the budget,” Groarke said.
Groarke came with a list of her own concerns about program funding in the district to express to Biaggi.
“I have a ton of [issues to discuss], but I focused on two,” Groarke said. “Today I focused on, with my hat on as a member of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, some state funding issues for really important work that our organization does in the Bronx for energy efficiency and for youth programs that we need youth programs that we need greater funding for, for the state.”
While there existed some overlap in the concerns that were brought up among constituents, each constituent represented a different perspective.
Roberta Todd, a representative from Christ Church Outreach Ministries, shared her strong sentiments on ensuring that everyone’s voice in the district be heard and adequately represented.
“I’m so glad that the Senator did this because I feel she should hear from all people in the district and she should know that there are not only people that are non-profit, not only people that are business people, and that’s why I was glad to come here and be able to represent a faith group of people,” said Todd.
Biaggi hopes to hold more open forums like this one in the future, as well as to continue to foster a relationship with the Manhattan College community.
“We want as many young people as possible involved in this process and I want to make my office accessible to all of the students at Manhattan College if they want to be involved because that is the point of this, ultimately,” Biaggi said.