Susan Rosenthal with Shelton J. Haynes in Lighthouse Park for the Girl Puzzle ribbon cutting.

Part Three: Strange Moves As Haynes Became RIOC CEO


One day, Susan Rosenthal was running RIOC with authority. She was generally well-liked while she handled the difficult balance between state and community. But she was abruptly out in a series of strange moves, and Shelton J. Haynes was in. Haynes played a crucial role in her ouster. It may not have been intended. Or, maybe it was.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News


Evasion or Genuine Suprise?

Shortly after I took a seat in Shelton J. Haynes’s office, we talked briefly about his mentor and predecessor Susan Rosenthal’s sudden dismissal a month before. Haynes was now Acting President/CEO, given the position within hours after Governor Cuomo fired her.

Haynes told me he thought that she hadn’t done anything worthy of being fired. Maybe “a slap on the wrist,” was more appropriate, he said, gesturing from behind his desk.

He also told me Rosenthal’s firing came as a surprise because he was away in Georgia dealing with family issues when he got calls about the accusations against her. He positioned himself as something of an innocent bystander.

But this was before the lawsuits, the explosive accusations and our investigation. Could he have been telling the truth?

After Some Strange Moves, Shelton Haynes Stepped In While Susan Rosenthal Was Thrown Out

However coordinated, the actions began falling into place when Karline Jean, a longtime RIOC staffer acting on behalf of a group, emailed a critical list of complaints to a couple of dozen officials. While originally assumed as targeting Rosenthal, Jean has told friends that it was about bullying by RIOC executives in general. That included Shelton J. Haynes.

Although Jean’s mass email violated state policy by going public, it was a catalyst for more. Past violations surfaced as the curtains slowly pulled back on a plot against Rosenthal.

As far as we know, Jean was not reprimanded for violating Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office of Employee Relations policies but an investigation began. The investigator, according to sworn testimony, quickly determined that nothing in Jean’s letter was actionable.

In other words, Susan Rosenthal was cleared of any wrongdoing, but that was temporary. A series of strange moves catalyzed into something much larger, its genesis still unrevealed.

But Who Lit the Fuse?

Before the dust settled on that drama, someone lit a fuse, telling the GOER investigator about other alleged abuses. While we don’t know who spoke up, Karline Jean is probably ruled out because, if she had anything as volatile as this, why hadn’t she spilled it in the first place?

Two major accusations probably made the difference in Rosenthal’s public humiliation by Cuomo’s henchman, Richard Azzopardi. Testimony in Rosenthal’s lawsuit also confirms that Cuomo’s top operative, Melissa DeRosa took part.

  • Human Resources chief Tajuna Sharpe alleged that, two years earlier, Rosenthal advised her that she had trouble dealing with men at meetings because she never learned how to perform oral sex on them. This was not reported at the time, and there are no apparent witnesses.
  • An unnamed person played back a recording over the telephone in which Rosenthal was alleged to have used the “N” word. While we later learned that Haynes was the recorder, the state refused to produce the evidence when challenged in court.

After hearing about these unproven allegations, Azzopardi – on Juneteenth in 2020 – dished a statement accusing Rosenthal of both sexual and racial transgressions. It went exclusively to the New York Post and was published late that day. That is, rushed on Juneteenth.

That was how Rosenthal learned the general reasons why she was fired.

The Case Against Shelton J. Haynes

Several people have confirmed that Haynes played back for them a video recording of a telephone conversation he had with Rosenthal. Although he recorded it on his phone, it contained only the discussion with no evidence proving it was Rosenthal on the other end.

If he made the recording during work hours, using state equipment, and without permission, then played it secretly for other African American employees, he should have been fired immediately. It was as extreme a violation of state policy and ethics as can be imagined, if true as multiple sources allege.

And if it wasn’t, there is virtually no case against Rosenthal.

RIOC has refused to turn over the recording as demanded in Rosenthal’s lawsuit and told The Daily that they don’t have it, responding to a FOIL request.

The bottom line is that no clear evidence exists for any of the charges against Rosenthal, but multiple people will attest to Haynes’s actions if asked.

Other Strange Moves Benefiting Haynes

After a brisk, shallow and incomplete investigation, featuring not a single sworn statement by any RIOC employee, Governor Cuomo pushed Rosenthal off the roof, replacing her with Shelton Haynes within hours – on the African American holiday Juneteenth.

Since there was no emergency, no cause existed for the immediate switch. No legally constituted board meeting took place, and the state denied Rosenthal any opportunity to appear in her own defense.

We don’t know enough yet for confirmation, but this had all the appearances of a staged event.

And Finally

Haynes’s role in the process is not clear, but would an ethical man leap immediately into a job vacated in this way? And why was he instantly promoted in the first place with a vastly more qualified candidate, John O’Reilly, inexplicably sidelined?

O’Reilly, a Caucasian, with decades of management experience, recognized as a boon to RIOC’s finances, was never considered, not then nor when Cuomo made Haynes’s role permanent.

And finally and possibly more damning, why did Haynes move immediately to reorganize RIOC, promoting unqualified African Americans into new roles ahead of better-qualified Caucasians?

Haynes stands accused of racism by other employees, Island residents and a former contractor who tells The Daily that Haynes called him a “White motherf–ker!” twice during disputes.

What role, if any, has racism played in the rolling mess we know as RIOC?

Check back for the concluding article in this series this week.

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