RIOC President Susan Rosenthal was fired unexpectedly by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday, June 19th. Sexually and racially offensive language, his office claimed, was the cause, but it now appears she may be a victim of political correctness run amok. Or an in-house coup in which her accuser fronted for others seeking gains from her dismissal.
By David Stone
UPDATE June 23rd, 2020: Details on Rosenthal’s firing emerged yesterday. The Roosevelt Islander obtained a copy of an email thought to trigger the event. The sender copied dozens of officials, but RIOC keeps it an in-house secret.
The Roosevelt Island Daily/News knows who sent the letter, but we are keeping that information silent, for now. That’s partly because we doubt she acted alone and are developing a broader picture.
No one challenged her accusations on merit or whether they justified her harsh dismissal, a fact suspicious in and of itself.
Arousing more suspicion is the fact that, although RIOC’s board fired Rosenthal and replaced her with VP Shelton Haynes, there is no record of any meeting as required by state law. There was never any public notice nor do we know if there was a quorum. No minutes are online nor is there a record of the meeting on RIOC’s website.
What’s with all the secrecy and backroom dealing? Who made the decisions, and why?
RIOC’s policy of silence when faced with difficulty remains, and the ousted president cannot defend herself. But she deserves a defense, and piling on a defenseless victim shines a bad light on Roosevelt Island.
If the email is really the spark for her dismissal, Rosenthal’s major faults may be no worse than a sense of humor and a taste for African-American art.
Let’s start with the art…
The accuser is first aggrieved over, believe it or not, artwork:
Last year Ms. Rosenthal purchased a painting named “The Cotton Picker” which depicted a slave picking cotton. The painting was placed it in her office until she decided to take it to her home. She faced no repercussions. In addition to making staffers feel uncomfortable, we also felt disrespected.Anonymous Accuser
But in reality, The Cotten Picker is a new work by an African-American artist, and Rosenthal bought it at a Black History Month exhibit at Gallery RIVAA.
Rarely is support for living African American artists this twisted in making a case.
Who could take this seriously?
Accusations of Racism
Rosenthal’s daughter married an African American man, and her well-known off-the-cuff humor comes through. But her accuser finds offense in her remark that her “son in law is black as hell and her daughter is white as snow.”
This her accuser learned from eavesdropping on a resident visit to Rosenthal’s office.
And she finds more grounds for complaint.
“When her first grandchild was born, she also mentioned that her grandchild was ‘the real African American.'”
That, the accuser asserts, is “extremely appalling,” but does not explain why.
Rosenthal’s as well-known for adoring her grandkids as she is for her humor, and instead of appalling, those who know her are likely to see this as pride.
But perhaps most disturbing, an objection to a phrase most commonly used to counter stereotyping African Americans: “…not all black people look alike,”
How was that spun into something offensive?
A sense of humor further at risk…
Saving the worst for last…
The sexually offensive comment chucked into the mix for Rosenthal’s firing…
“She has also mentioned in meetings with internal and external parties, that the last time she trusted someone she lost her virginity.”
Sorry, this made me laugh.
And if that’s actionable, everyone whoever cracked a joke’s in trouble.
That would include me because I’ve made far worse, at least by the standards set by Governor Cuomo and RIOC.
End of Update
RIOC President Rosenthal Fired
Although short on details, Rosenthal’s dismissal brings to a close her four year tenure as president at the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation. In the first year, she was “acting” after serving as lead counsel under Charlene Indelicato.
The surprise comes as RIOC works its way out of restrictions caused by the coronavirus crisis.
And it comes before the dust settled on a controversial firing of two high level managers, earlier this month.
We covered Cuomo’s appointment of her in 2016: Cuomo Thumbs His Nose At Roosevelt Island, Installs Unqualified RIOC Leader.
Aggressive improvements in infrastructure marked her work, but that will be tempered by a reputation for favoring developers over residents. In recent years, RIOC’s grown more opaque, slow walking FOIL requests and dodging news inquiries.
Rosenthal is 72 years old. She is an experienced lawyer.
RIOC President Rosenthal’s Fired by Cuomo Out of the Blue
According to an article in the New York Post, where her dismissal was first reported, an unidentified employee accused Rosenthal of “inappropriate language” and other “inappropriate conduct.”
No more details were available. There was a statement by Cuomo senior adviser Richard Azzopardi.
We will bring you a review of Rosenthal’s tenure on Roosevelt Island in the coming days, but this writer, among others, will miss her gregarious nature while acknowledging serious disappointments.
But no RIOC leader has ever been perfect, and few, if any, had as significant an impact as Rosenthal.
Vice President of Operations Shelton Haynes is now Acting President/CEO at RIOC.