Shelton J. Haynes with PSD Chief Kevin Brown

Who earns more? New York Governor Kathy Hochul or RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes?


As you might’ve guessed, “Who earns more?” is a trick question because, if the obvious were the answer, nobody would ask. Haynes, presiding over 11,700 New Yorkers on one island, beats out Hochul in the race for take home pay. And there’s more.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

One Man Earns More Than Many Others, But Nobody Knows Why

Shelton Haynes
Shelton Haynes, while still second in command, in 2019.

You might think it’s just a New York oddity, one of those “only in New York things,” but it’s not. Haynes, according to figures from his own Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) pulls down a hefty $216,152.30 a year while Hochul struggled along at a measly $210K as Lieutenant Governor.

And it’s not just because Hochul’s a newbie. It was the similar under Governor Andrew Cuomo, who got a little more, $225,000 plus whatever he could hussle.

Putting it all in broader perspective, RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes earned more than, not just Hochul, but every other governor in the United States. Gavin Newsom presides over California with 30 million citizens, but he falls over $10K behind Haynes at $202K.

New York State has 57 counties. The average pay for County Executives is around $70K, about 1/3 of what Haynes snags. County Executives, on average, answer to 350,000 citizens. Roosevelt Island, a community rich with open spaces, counts just 11,700, but Haynes answers to none of them.

Here’s the kicker though, those 11,700 local residents pay for nearly all of RIOC’s operations, including Haynes’s salary, without having a word in how it’s spent. A hidden RIOC tax gets extracted from rents and fees collected by landlords. Because Roosevelt Islanders also pay all the other taxes New Yorkers pay, this makes them the highest taxed community in America.

Executives are appointed by Albany handlers without any local vote or input. Usually, when announced, they’re strangers, surprises yanked out of the patronage pool. How their compensation is determined remains mysterious to those paying the bills 150 miles down the Hudson.

For the record…

Haynes earns more than New York State Assembly Members, State Senators and department heads, nearly doubling their salaries. His salary soars far above the measly $174,000 paid U.S. Congress Members. And he tops the pay of Buffalo’s mayor by $60 grand. Buffalo is New York’s second largest city, but not to worry, Haynes also tops New York City’s mayor, just not by as much.

If Haynes makes this much more than so many others with much greater responsibility, how is it possible?

Good question, extraordinarily hard to answer. That’s because so much of RIOC’s operations are shrouded in mystery. Since an internal coup overthrew Susan Rosenthal, Haynes’s predecessor, a media blackout blocks the information flow. And the last resort, Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests are slow walked and almost always incomplete.

The fact that the state agency hides and/or disguises so much, making public only what they have to, raises its own issues. But in a state long poisoned by corruption, political patronage and unseen maneuvering for power, residents may have gotten used to it. And on Roosevelt Island, where Haynes reaps his rewards, the community, lacking a vote, is even more powerless than the rest of the state.

One thing for sure, when RIOC bumped Haynes’s pay by around $50,000 while residents struggled through the pandemic, it wasn’t because of his achievements. Remember the cliche about running through snow without leaving a food print? That’s sort of how Haynes passed five years on Roosevelt Island.

A step down as an example

While Rosenthal, for example, was front and center in fighting back against COVID, Haynes has been invisible.

Susan Rosenthal with coronavirus face mask
Before her unexpected firing, RIOC president/CEO Susan Rosenthal led the charge against the coronavirus.

Under Rosenthal’s tenure, weekly bulletins made her office a bully pulpit for public health as pandemic scares flooded the state. Public Information Officer Terrence McCauley made her administration accessible and accountable as much as possible with Albany in control.

But under Haynes, local media hassled the state agency for months before efforts at enforcing COVID mandates in mass transit even started.

And while Haynes and his executives wave the flag over infrastructure improvements, all began under Rosenthal. In fact, perhaps his most visible achievement comes from taking credit for others’ work and ideas.

So, why does he pull down $216K, earning more than almost everyone else in government – plus the additional demand for a private office suite in an historically preserved building and four free parking spots on Main Street? We don’t know, and if things continue as they are, we never will.

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