That’s right. Big bad RIOC really doesn’t like little old me, and I think I know why. It’s because, as a journalist, a thorn looking for a side, I stung them. Healthy skepticism is necessary for doing a good job, but RIOC makes it even better, rewarding distrust. And, as a simple fact, like their Albany boss, Andrew Cuomo, the locals don’t believe the public has any right to know.
By David Stone
As a matter of history, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) dislikes journalists, but it wasn’t always so.
Although I wrote only fiction then, in the early 90s, RIOC’s first president, Jean Lerman, was easy to work with. And I was worse than a journalist. I was a committee head for the RIRA Common Council, an organization set up for the sole purpose of challenging state authority.
Didn’t bother Lerman or #2 Barry Chafetz. We sat in their conference room and poured over the company’s books. Yeah, we still had books then, not digitized, and they showed me how the Tram and free buses had them bleeding money.
Imagine! Lerman and Chafetz thought the community might help solve a problem.
Last man standing…
And as a starting out journalist, I got along well with RIOC CEO Steve Shane. Shane had an open door policy, but even more, he encouraged me and others to use it.
Then came the dark years of Leslie Torres.
During that bleak reign, if I ran into friends from big bad RIOC on the street, they got nervous, glancing around furtively like they were dealing drugs.
“We can’t talk to you,” one finally explained. “You write for the newspaper.”
I then wrote art reviews.
Things didn’t perk up much with Charlene Indelicato. Although she reduced the temperature, hostility lingered, but it wasn’t all her fault. The local press was pissed because Boss Cuomo rolled back hard won concessions allowing the community greater say in how RIOC operates.
And she was the local face of Albany, but she was also tough and fair-minded.
We sat for an exit interview, and she answered every question, no dodges.
I was sorry to see her go, but sorrier to see Susan Rosenthal get the job to succeed her.
Big bad RIOC in the age of Rosenthal…
I was upfront from Day One, writing that Rosenthal was not qualified for the job. But that was four years ago, and Governor Cuomo did not heed my advice.
Rosenthal stayed until an intra-office coup was organized to displace her, and I learned an important thing about her.
Susan Rosenthal could take a punch and, amazingly, never returned a vindictive blow.
We tangled many times, but during her term running big bad RIOC, she earned my respect.
Even after the hardest hitting of news articles, if we met on the street, she showed her usual spirit and interest. She, in fact, for free, gave me some of the best legal advice ever.
And we collaborated on several projects, most notably rescuing Roosevelt Island pioneer and literary giant Alice Childress from neglect. We were also 100% simpatico on the Island of Art concept.
But then, they got her… which brings us to…
Big Bad RIOC Really Doesn’t Like Little Old Me
Never should the relationship between government and the media become too cozy. A gap of objectivity keeps things honest.
Journalists, including me, make mistakes, and so does the ruling class. But we have to face off fairly, finding the right levels on the see-saw whenever we can.
Give Shelton Haynes credit. One of his first objectives in taking over as acting RIOC president in June was improving press relations.
A solid professional public information officer, Terrence McCauley, was already in place, and all we really needed was some sunlight at the top.
With Rosenthal, the openness had been intermittent, largely based on what she wanted you to know and not know.
A genuinely likable guy with a quick mind, Haynes offered change. Or so he said.
Another thing he did not have in common with Rosenthal… He could not take a punch, and for me at least, an honest report led to total darkness at the top.
Haynes ghosted me after I posted an article he didn’t like, and across the board, RIOC followed suit.
That is press censorship, by the way, and it won’t work.
Rolling downhill with the news and Shelton Haynes
After Haynes invited me to his office for a change of tone visit, I followed up, as I said I would, with concerns about toxic wastes in Southpoint Park.
These concerns are far from trivial and, in my view and unless convinced otherwise, demanded answers before the park was torn up. Shouldn’t we know everything we can about carcinogens found in enough places to suggest they were everywhere?
Although dealing with a quarantine and more, Haynes promised answers. Then, he stalled, and then, he stalled again. And two months later, he’s never answered.
He broke a promise, and that made me dig deeper. What I found was a tradition of lying at RIOC, carried through by Haynes himself.
Nobody likes being called a liar, but all politicians lie. That’s established fact, and if you’re under Andrew Cuomo’s thumb, you are a politician. No way around it.
Blacklisted, ghosted and invisible…
In the weeks since my reports on toxic wastes and lying, two significant things have happened. One’s more of a not happened…
RIOC knows how to reach me, but they have not contested or asked for a correction of any kind, a tacit admission that the facts are straight and they don’t like them.
And as a result, #2, RIOC, from head to toe, top to bottom, refuses to respond to any requests for information from me.
Big bad RIOC doesn’t like little old me or, more specifically, what I have to say. And they’re showing it with all the finesse of a high school clique with its inflated juvenile pride tarnished.