Would Roosevelt Island be better off without Governor Andrew Cuomo running the show, muscling his will out of Albany? You bet we would, and here are five good reasons why.
By David Stone
Roosevelt Island Daily News/Opinion
Better off without Cuomo…?
It was worth a laugh. Grimly.
After two more women stepped up, last weekend, accusing the governor of bad behavior, leaders in the New York legislature called for his resignation. But “No,” said Cuomo. That would be “anti-democratic.”
This from the fiercely undemocratic bully pulling strings without consent in Albany, which gives us reason #1.
Cuomo and company whisked away Roosevelt Island’s democracy movement…
Before Cuomo snatched the governor’s seat, largely because Elliot Spitzer couldn’t keep his zipper up, Roosevelt Island earned local representation in how RIOC operates. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. evolved out initial state development, assigned to build out the community. But that wasn’t happening, largely due to opportunism out of Albany.
Islanders fought and won authority with seats on the board, supposedly one acting independently.
But Cuomo soon smothered gains won from Spitzer and Governor David Paterson.
Because Roosevelt Island’s a hybrid, an idealist’s creature put together loosely, one of a kind, it was steeped in evolutionary juices. The vision needed time for figuring things out, for seeing how things worked and making wise adjustments.
To that end, activists pushed for and won some power over local government. Majority spots on RIOC’s governing board were guaranteed, and elections were mostly honored.
Sadly, Cuomo has no taste for shared authority and, once in office, coolly made adjustments of his own.
Forget promises and hopes, he left board seats empty for years, tilting the balance of power his way. Then, when he finally filled three seats, he plunked down passive supporters incapable of saying, “No.”
To anything, except resident demands.
And the consequence? The only role Roosevelt Islanders play in local government is the dubious freedom of paying the RIOC tax.
Taxation without representation never passes the sniff test, but Cuomo loves it.
New York State, in fact, contributes virtually nothing to Roosevelt Island but, under Cuomo, demands authority over how RIOC spends.
#2 Cuomo seasons Roosevelt Island with endless scandals…
Under his heavy-handed rule, RIOC scandals proliferate, and we’d be better off without Cuomo because that could stop.
Scandals exposed during his first term created an exit ramp for three executives, including the top two, and prison for one. Leslie Torres was a frequent no-show CEO, too free with the corporate credit card, and vice president Fernando Martinez pocketed hundreds of thousands in kickbacks.
But although the governor exercised the same tight-fisted control, then as now, he did nothing to stop it. The state inspector general stepped in where Cuomo’s team failed, finding corruption in plain sight and assailing it.
Current unresolved scandals include contaminated water in fountains Island-wide, mishandling of toxic wastes in Southpoint Park and the cringe-worthy, possibly racist firing of president/CEO Susan Rosenthal.
#3 The community would be better off without Cuomo’s shadow government
Although RIOC is, according to statute, self-governing, we find from Rosenthal’s blistering lawsuit that the president takes orders from an invisible Cuomo deputy, one appointed, never voted on or introduced to the community.
Making that handicap even worse, that deputy is not required to understand local values and concerns or ever even visit.
Maybe he or she only operates a turnstile for Cuomo-favored contractors, real estate interests and other political donors. But who knows?
We don’t know because Cuomo penchant for robust secrecy encourages RIOC to bunker up. No news eliminates bad news — hopefully — and there’s an extended local media blackout.
#4 Showing the governor the door also opens it for better staffing
By now, most Islanders know there’s a protected class at RIOC that can’t be budged.
Years of backstabbing and conniving delivered the “cabal” accused of engineering Rosenthal’s dismissal broader power and authority without much evidence of competence.
Unless you define competence in terms of manipulating the snake pit at 591 Main Street.
The protected elites still can’t put together a press release, while collecting six figure salaries, nor can they draft a coherent snow emergency plan.
But after putting management on the defensive with a years long fusillade of unfounded, irresponsible complaints tossed north to Albany, this group uses power relentlessly. Not to make the community better, but to butter their own bread.
And to be clear, Cuomo could do something about them but instead chose to play along. The cabal offers valuable tools for his henchmen.
Among other gems, the cabal pulled the strings on crushing the popular, four decades old Roosevelt Island Youth Program, putting it under their own control and tripling the budget for themselves.
The cabal also gets credit for media manipulation and RIOC’s established bunker mode of silence in face of criticism.
And the governor does nothing about that either.
And finally, we may better better off without Cuomo because a new governing board with spines becomes possible
Properly set up, RIOC’s board is more than a team of governing directors because it’s also a firewall against bad management and Albany abuse.
Under Cuomo, it can’t be any of that.
With all chairs in the boardroom filled by sycophants, career climbers and lackadaisical yes-men, the board does little more than create a quorum for an endless parade of unanimous “Yes” votes.
The governor has the authority to pull the plug on anyone objecting too loudly — that is, above a whisper.
And when, after eight years in office, he finally got around to appointing three new board members, what did we get?
Two men with no community involvement at all, known as “Who the hell is that?” #1 and #2. Plus former Residents Association president Jeffrey Escobar, a talented attorney, but one who no longer lives on Roosevelt Island.
Let’s look at recent results.
When Albany henchmen blew Susan Rosenthal out of the water without a hearing or the hint of a defense, usurping their authority, not a single board member publicly protested. On the contrary, the whole spineless crew genuflected northward, chanting “Yes, governor. Yes, governor.”
If that’s the best they can do, the hell with them. We’d be better off without them as well as fiercely undemocratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.
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