This week, a Susan Rosenthal lawsuit angrily lashed out at Governor Cuomo and his henchmen along with RIOC’s own do-nothing board of
By David Stone
Update, November 9th, 2020: RIOC’s board convened a special meeting with the sole purpose of discussing Susan Rosenthal’s lawsuit.
While the state agency enforced its heels dug in commitment to secrecy, pre-talk on Zoom confirmed the topic of the meeting. The lawsuit was filed on October 20th, naming RIOC and every board member by name, and a response is expected this month.
We’ll keep tabs on it and try weeding through RIOC’s strange, self-protecting secrecy to keep you informed.
Rosenthal lawsuit overview…
In a lawsuit filed on Monday, October 20th, ambushed RIOC president CEO Susan Rosenthal demands reinstatement, back pay and more. She vigorously disputes charges made against her, but her filing goes much further.
Details about her firing not previously disclosed are part of the package.
As we suggested in our reports on this mess among messes, an internal “cabal,” according to the lawsuit, disrupts the state agency and has for years. The former chief executive goes further. She says she was warned about a group of troublemakers seeking to oust management when she was hired.
That was in 2015, during the tenure of RIOC president Charlene Indelicato, who hired her as chief legal counsel.
Susan Rosenthal is not racist…
Let’s start with the most obvious.
A major flaw in the attack against Rosenthal is the critical issue of racism.
“The Board member respondents were fully aware of who Susan is as a person and of her record of promoting racial equality and diversity.”Susan Rosenthal Lawsuit
Those who worked with her insist the charge is ludicrous, or as one senior exec told us, “Susan Rosenthal doesn’t have a racist bone in her body.”
Her lawsuit goes on at length about her support for the Black Lives Matter movement as well annual Black History Month events on Roosevelt Island.
Rosenthal’s lawsuit also outlines her consistent promotion of African-American and Hispanic employees.
Bottom line: the charges are bogus, cooked up with a motive:
“Rosenthal’s firing took place hurriedly and harshly on Juneteenth, a day celebrating the end of slavery in America. The termination of Rosenthal, a white woman, was nothing more than a misguided effort by respondents to publicly and deliberately highlight the importance of that day,”
Who’s being sued and why…?
The main thrust of the lawsuit targets RIOC, but it’s unsparing in pointing fingers at individual culprits.
Most important for Roosevelt Islanders, Rosenthal’s lawsuit explains, if vaguely, RIOC’s observable dysfunction. An internal civil war brewed for more than five years with a “cabal” devoted to overthrowing management.
While it’s difficult understanding why this was tolerated, many local residents were aware and can even list the players. This matters because they all still remain employed by RIOC, and sabotaging Rosenthal was far from their first destructive activity.
The group, for example, schemed to destroy the Roosevelt Island Youth Program.
More specifically, the Rosenthal Lawsuit names three Cuomo henchmen, assigned to the dirty work, and every member of RIOC’s board.
The filing accuses each of essentially kowtowing to Cuomo and failing at doing their jobs. Board members, too, failed again in their fiduciary responsibilities for overseeing the state agency.
Noting the board’s spinelessness isn’t new, but in this critical instance, the failures are “astonishing.” Professionals, lawyers yet, harming their reputation through negligence, in service to Albany, seems inexplicable.
The Rosenthal lawsuit: What happened?
Rosenthal offers details not previously known.
Only a week after the “cabal” attacked and Cuomo’s henchman ran a “sham investigation,” she was fired without notice. A surprise hour-long phone call was her only opportunity to mount a defense.
On Friday afternoon, June 19th, 2020, after vigorously leading RIOC through the worst of the COVID crisis, three Cuomo henchmen, whose names you’ve never heard, fired her over the phone.
Not only that, they ordered her not to return to her office and said her belongs would be delivered.
How a spineless board failed…
In recent years, RIOC’s board consistently capitulated to every whim coming out of Albany, but as Rosenthal’s lawsuit reminds us, only they have the power of hiring and firing.
But Team Cuomo fired Rosenthal without any involvement by the board, and making matters worse, they selectively released the news to the New York Post.
“…besmirching a more than 45 year long exemplary career,” the Rosenthal lawsuit says. Grabbing “some cheap publicity on Juneteenth,” they threw her “under the proverbial bus.”
State law does not give them that authority, but the board, which does have the authority, idled, never investigating on their own. The RIOC legal team joined the jiggling parade of the spineless, not once raising an issue.
In fact, an emergency meeting of the board was called after Team Cuomo’s hatchet job, without required public notice and with no records posted. But it was not for dismissing Rosenthal. It was for naming her successor.
One thing the Rosenthal lawsuit leaves out: nothing in these events suggests any kind of emergency. An investigation, much as the board launched in wrecking RIYP, could have been started, objectively and legally.
Instead, RIOC’s legal team and board simply ducked, allowing grandstanding by Cuomo on an honored African-American holiday.
One firewall against external abuse surrendered, it got worse.
The Rosenthal lawsuit gives elected officials a pass, but we won’t…
The filing makes clear that both state assembly member Rebecca Seawright and city council member Ben Kallos reached out to Rosenthal with condolences.
Kallos previously and publicly called her “the best RIOC president ever,” and according to the lawsuit, Seawright echoed that.
But where’s the muscle? Where’s the public support?
Further reinforcing fears that we sadly elected folks who represent Cuomo first, not us, neither spoke out.
Seawright is investing millions collected from Albany in fighting for reelection, and Kallos has been running for Manhattan Borough President since the Stone Age. Both are beholding to Cuomo, not constituents, and it showed.
State senator José Serrano? Are you kidding?
Rosenthal lawsuit conclusion…
Rosenthal’s lawsuit shines a glaring light on the mechanics of corruption streaming down from Albany.
Can it get worse than disgracing a loyal public servant, overriding laws and responsibilities, just for cheap publicity? Maybe.
Never underestimate the strong arm of Andrew Cuomo.
But there’s promise too. Conspiracies hate sunlight and fresh air, and this catastrophe has both.
When your shipment of spines fails to make it to the warehouse on time, you slump in public. As RIOC’s hopelessly namby-pamby board has.
The Rosenthal lawsuit, by exposing years long shenanigans — on the public’s dime — may ignite change. It’s needed.
And whatever you believe about Rosenthal’s performance as president/CEO, she deserved better.
And so do we.