With Cuomo out, the impact may be dramatic for RIOC and Roosevelt Island. It will take new Governor Kathy Hochul a while, but change is coming because the cult of Cuomo is over.
By David Stone
With Cuomo Out: An Overview
Few Roosevelt Islanders understand how thoroughly Governor Andrew Cuomo’s surrogates run RIOC on a daily basis. Behind the scenes operators in Albany, not CEO Shelton Haynes or his board, micromanage all operations.
A union leader and MTA board member, John Samuelsen, called them “bullying sycophants.” He called out Larry Schwartz specifically in an article in The CITY.
Schwartz, a Cuomo loyalist, has repeatedly played a role in running the show here.
After RIOC’s board fired president/CEO Steve Shane, under circumstances that remain mysterious, in 2010, it was Schwartz who persuaded them to back off setting up a committee to search for his replacement.
Shane was an Elliot Spitzer appointee, and he was almost immediately succeeded by Leslie Torres. Many assume that Schwartz operated the background machinery in that switch.
A wash of scandals and mismanagement swept Torres out of office in 2012, and again, Schwartz stepped in.
As Charlene Indelicato explained, Schwartz recruited her as president/CEO at RIOC.
Although Roosevelt Island democracy advocates fault Indelicato for discontinuing the practice of resident voting for seats on the board, she gets credit for settling down a tempestuous organization. But she also hired RIOC’s most popular executive, the late Jack McManus, as PSD chief.
One of her last hires was Shelton J. Haynes, now RIOC’s president/CEO.
More “bullying sycophants…?
Getting a better picture, though, of how Albany runs RIOC takes no more than a look at how Susan Rosenthal was fired and Haynes elevated.
Not RIOC’s board but Cuomo’s top guns did the deed. While the board idled impotently in the background, Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa de Rosa, approved it, and then chief spokesman Richard Azzopardi dropped the axe in a press release.
Rushed on Juneteenth.
The move was so callous, Rosenthal first got the full details by reading about it in the New York Post, just like anyone else.
But the machinery was already in motion as the board followed orders and voted in Haynes as interim leader without ever hearing from Rosenthal in her defense.
There’s no record of Haynes or anyone on the board objecting to Albany usurping local officials or in treating Rosenthal cruelly.
What changes under Governor Kathy Hochul?
Many unknowns await, but it’s unlikely that Hochul will be as intensely authoritarian as Cuomo. Actually, probably nobody would.
Importantly, Hochul does not have Albany entanglements nearly as deep as Cuomo. When she takes office, she will be the first governor from north of Peekskill in Westchester County in over a hundred years.
And while her political career started in Erie County, she spent her lieutenant governor time touring all 62 counties every year. She also kept a focus on economic development, chairing countless conferences across the state.
Although not well known in the media, Hochul developed helpful relationships in many communities.
She took a tour of Roosevelt Island with Manhattan Borough president Gale Brewer in 2016.
That said, she is not likely to depend as heavily of the “bullying sycophants” Cuomo called on. The toughest of the lot, de Rosa, is already gone, and after a transition, others will follow.
And just like Cuomo’s, her administration will be defined by those she puts in place behind her. But if she wants it lasting anywhere nearly as long, she’ll make changes.
As that affects Roosevelt Island, we hope that assembly member Rebecca Seawright will be a guide. Democrats with similar independent tendencies, they may find common ground outside Cuomo’s shadow.
With Cuomo out, what happens on the ground with RIOC?
Not only are RIOC executives either handpicked or approved by Team Cuomo, the same is true for key members of the staff. Many are also protected by local sponsors tied to Cuomo who needed their support.
Patronage explains some hires, but more importantly, it explains the lack of accountability. Normally, workers keep their jobs and earn promotions through performance. But that’s not true with RIOC and other state agencies where politics outweighs results.
Expect a reshuffle of authority rather than a thorough house cleaning, but without the same protections, many staffers will have something to prove. Cuomo loyalty will no longer be at a premium.
And the board…?
The current composition of the board does not meet the legal requirement for local representation. And a majority are holdovers far beyond the four year term specified in RIOC’s enabling legislation.
One seat, dependent upon a mayoral recommendation, is empty and has been for years.
An ethically minded board would tender resignations immediately and await the new governor’s decision, allowing her a team that can execute her goals. But the current board has shown an affection for ethics about as deep as Cuomo’s
Don’t expect any of them nor the executives for whom they’ve provided cover to stand tall now.
But, when she’s ready, Hochul can dispatch most of them simply by appointing a replacement.
And that’s where it gets interesting.
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