If you’re into dairy, the case against Susan Rosenthal, launched defensively by the state, is more holes than cheese. Swiss cheese, that is. A sandcastle that doesn’t need a wave to knock it over.
By David Stone
Roosevelt Island Daily News/Opinion
Swing back around, making their case against Susan Rosenthal…
Really, the New York State Supreme Court case, INDEX NO. 158795/2020, is unjustly terminated RIOC CEO Susan Rosenthal’s case against them. But their peculiar response changes the dynamics, firing a shotgun blast of new, more volatile accusations.
It’s like they threw their first basis for firing her out because it was so stupid, then scratched together something else. Something worse. And the harder they try at making work, it just looks stupider, but on a grander scale.
On June 12th, last year, a disgruntled, recently demoted employee with a history of fabulous claims powered up another. And although the state now admits the charges weren’t worth a bucket of dirty water, although the resemblance is scary, Rosenthal was fired, without notice, exactly a week later.
Them’s the basics. But as soon as you pick around at them, they take that muffin shape, and the monkeys come out. Any reporter worth this laptop would love digging into this pile of crumbs, so rich with errors in the baking.
Full disclosure: Susan Rosenthal and me…
From the first year I started the Roosevelt Island Daily, RIOC’s then acting president/CEO and I tangled. When her job was made permanent, dropping the “acting,” I wrote that Governor Andrew Cuomo screwed Roosevelt Island. He was responsible for filling the position, and he filled it with someone totally unqualified. Rosenthal had zero community development experience. She was an experienced, successful lawyer, yes, but that’s something else.
So, what was she doing in the big office at 591 Main Street?
It went on like that, in similar style, for four years, when I was a severe critic.
But there was more.
Susan and I worked on some big time successes. Most notable was restoring a memorial to African American writer Alice Childress and finding a new home for it in her last neighborhood: Roosevelt Island.
And although it was extra-governmental, she took my idea for staging one of Childress’s plays locally and ran with it.
But here’s the thing about Susan Rosenthal. Whether we feuded or collaborated, she was always the same when we met outside. That is, friendly, helpful, at ease and never vindictive.
I always expected her to angrily unload, one day, but she never did. She even gave me credit for the concept when the play opened in the Howe Theatre.
No special preference leads me to defend Susan, but I am prejudiced against indecency. And what the state’s trying to do is stinky with it.
Let’s start at the beginning and take it in sequence…
The originally, widely broadcast complaint from a disgruntled employee has already been abandoned like a campaign promise by Cuomo’s team, although they used it like hot sauce on an otherwise unaccented feast.
The diatribe, which violated both RIOC and New York State polices on racial discrimination complaints, landed in Albany… and lots of other places. And although even a cursory glance proved them cobbled together goofiness and although the very act grossly violated the rules, the Governors Office of Employee Relations (GOER) put an investigator on it immediately.
Like the house was on fire…
That was major gaffe #1. What was the hurry?
And as Rosenthal wonders in her most recently filing, why did the angry African American subordinate get away with overt violations while she was fired after an expedited inquiry about nothing or nearly nothing.
Spitting the bit…
The case against Susan Rosenthal jetted forward after GOER investigator Georgiana Martin, chatting with the angry complainer, uncovered treasures never imagined before.
Although her original charges were trivial and baseless, the employee spilled like a broken water main. Charges much worse than the originals flooded the place, but Martin wasn’t the least bit credulous. At least not according to her sworn statements.
If the employee had all this meat on her plate, how come she started out attacking with piffle? As far as we know, Martin never asked, and neither did anyone in Albany’s star chamber. Cuomo’s people treated the whole thing like a “gotcha” prize.
Wondering why or why they expedited the investigation even before the complainant coughed up the hidden bilge?
Well, so is Rosenthal. So is her attorney, and so am I…
We’ve got theories, but don’t ever expect a confession. That’s so not Cuomo.
The case against Rosenthal wobbles, then fails in disgrace…
So, we have a whiney, widely distributed attack on Susan that wouldn’t hold up in a kangaroo court serving as the basis for an expedited “investigation.” The only thing missing is… a reason.
In her filing, Rosenthal accuses Cuomo of racist grandstanding. Racing like Fancy Dancer at the Derby to replace a white woman with a younger African American man on Juneteenth, a popular holiday honoring the end of slavery.
We can’t prove it, but if it looks like horse dung, smells like dog poop and just lays there, it probably is something like that. And it does all three.
The new charges against Rosenthal are gross and, for her, embarrassing and harmful.
The complainer told Martin that Susan advised a staff member that she had trouble with men because she never learned to “suck dick.” And she claimed that the CEO advised male staffers to settle a dispute by measuring their penises.
Worst of all, the complainant accused Rosenthal of using the hateful “N word.”
Rosenthal denies all three, but there’s a kicker.
Martin swears she heard it all, verified on tape.
A can of worms opened…
Because the cruelty completely lacks humor, I’ll share the punchline first. The state’s attorney admits they don’t have the tapes and can’t produce them for review. So, where are they?
Rosenthal’s attorney, Steven Storch refers to this evidence as “carefully culled excerpts from an alleged audio tape recorded by a person unknown, at a time unknown, on a device unknown, in the presence of persons unknown and which contained a voice that ‘sounded like’ (Rosenthal).”
Editor’s note: I’ve spoken with Susan over the phone and in person and listened to her in many RIOC board meetings, and I could not pick her voice out on a tape, independent of instruction, with anything approaching certainty.
But there’s a bigger problem with the alleged tapes. How could Martin have listened to them?
The whole rushed investigation was conducted over the phone, according to Martin’s sworn statement, over five days, counting a weekend.
If she listened, filtered through a telephone line, how reliable is her identification of Rosenthal as a voice? Martin says she recognized Susan from a number of previous calls, but as an investigator working largely by phone, how many voices must she hear as part of her regular duties.
And Susan’s stood out? On a tape? Listened to over the phone?
Oh, brother… Were any adults in the room?
I’m no lawyer, but it sounds flimsy to me, and there’s another thing. How could she know for certain that the tapes were not doctored? Before you fire a high profile public servant and destroy a lifetime’s reputation, wouldn’t you want certainty?
Biggest holes in the Swiss cheese…
New York State’s case against Susan Rosenthal is so insubstantial, it’s more hole than cheese…
- How did trivial whining by a disgruntled employee metastasize into accusations of gross misconduct?
- If all of these things went on, why weren’t they surfaced before? Any supervisor must, according to state guidelines, report any such conduct they hear about. None did.
- Why was the investigation expedited, in the first place, and completed in such a rush that there was no written report and not a single affidavit from any RIOC employee, except Rosenthal, pro or con?
Does this look like a put up job to you? It does to me. And if it’s not, then what the hell is it?
Firewalls fail under Cuomo’s glare in the case against Susan Rosenthal….
The disgusting way the state handled all this should not have been possible. But firewalls built into the system failed.
Worst of all, RIOC’s board. Susan was their employee, but they never lifted a finger to investigate on their own or offer her a chance at defending herself. Instead, not atypically, they cowered under Cuomo’s glare like a quivering gaggle of spine donors. Apparently didn’t need their own.
Elected officials? Oh, please. Assembly member Rebecca Seawright was angling for Cuomo’s help in finding her way to reelection. And Senator José Serrano? Bunkered up in the Bronx.
The only elected who tried to do his job was city council member Ben Kallos, a staunch Rosenthal supporter, who contacted the state for details. But he was instantly rebuffed and apparently took it no further.
The State of New York has no case and Rosenthal’s charges of racism in her improper termination are strong.
We’ll report on the details of her most recent filing — on Friday — but for now, the horror that the case exists at all resonates. Decent people don’t foster, support or acquiesce to environments like this one, which means our biggest problem may be a gross lack of decent people in Albany and, saddest of all, here on Roosevelt Island.