Is RIOC’s Executive Team Racist, Narcissistic and Incompetent?


The answers are so clear they hardly require asking. Racism pollutes a narcissism-tainted executive team. The incompetence speaks for itself. Out loud. Every day.

Opinion by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Monday morning optimism took a tumble when I read a quote in Roosevelt Island Copy & Paste. New RIOC board member Ben Fhala ruined my coffee when I read his let’s-call-them thoughts on how RIOC will help residents during the F Train shutdown.

“… the main perspective of the executive team now,” Fhala said, “is that we’re not going to change automatically but we’re going to just assess and test it as the weeks go by and the executive teams will decide how to address it as they see the needs change. So right now, we don’t have any messages on any changes.”


Interpreting this hopelessly mixed up word salad: “The alleged executive team wil do nothing.” It’s Shelton Haynes straight from the bottle.

A crying need is in the state agency’s face, especially during times when subway service shuts down in both directions. But Fhala, who was picked by Senator Liz Krueger and says he shares her “vision for Roosevelt Island,” does a Shelton Haynes.

Words spray out like a burst pipe, saying nothing while dancing around responsibility.

No other board member objected. No other board member offered any kind of hope. The message: Live with it, suckers.

So much for our hopes for the new board members. And so much for our confidence in Senator Liz Krueger’s judgment.

About the RIOC Executive Team: Racism, Narcissism and Incompetence and Why It Matters

Caucasian Light: RIOC’s executive team reflects its CEO’s preferences, not local demographics, skills or choice. And it just got worse with Daemen Di Stefano’s resignation after only a year and a half. “To see the staggering statistic of Black chief executive officers in the United States is enough to sound the alarm and highlight the glaring need for representation,” Haynes told New York Weekly in April. “Haynes expanded his executive team, to be inclusive in nature with an emphasis on getting things done,” the newspaper noted. “The executive team includes four women, and more than half are members of minority groups.”

New York State does not have an affirmative action program, but it supports equal opportunity and diversity. All appearances suggest that RIOC goes in the opposite direction in all of that. This is the worst kind of racism.

Expecting a unit where racism is a theme and narcissism embedded can’t be, at the same time, competent. The math doesn’t work. The goals are like a jiggling jumble of me-first juvenile hopes and dreams.

Let’s Tackle the Racism First Because It’s So Obvious

The group photo alone tells a story. Consider that, in the months before Haynes parked his butt in the CEO chair, the same picture would include Susan Rosenthal, John O’Reilly, Terrence McCauley and Jonna Carmona Graf, all Caucasian, all more capable than their replacements.

Before assuming his new role, according to numerous reports, Haynes recorded conversations with Rosenthal, his mentor, on his iPhone without her consent. He then played them back selectively to other men and women of color on RIOC’s staff, turning them against her, an act racist by and of itself.

According to court testimony, one recording played a key role in Rosenthal’s dismissal, although the person making the recording was not identified. It has since disappeared. RIOC, in a FOIL response, said that they don’t have it, even though it was used against her.

Haynes lept instantly into the chief executive job vacated by Rosenthal’s dismissal. No one on RIOC’s board or executive team objected to what was clearly an illegal move corrected later in a staged board meeting.

Rosenthal, who hired and promoted Haynes over objections from other senior staff, was never given the opportunity of making a defense.

Since then, RIOC has been targeted with over a dozen investigations as well as lawsuits accusing Haynes and his team of racism, whistleblower retaliation and failures in oversight.

Narcissism Trickles from the Top Down

Recently, we published a article on narcissism. These are the symptoms:

  • Center of the Universe Syndrome: Narcissists believe they’re the sun and we’re all just planets revolving around them. They’re the stars of their own show, and everyone else is just an extra.
  • Empathy? What’s that?: A narcissist’s empathy tank is often running on empty. They struggle to understand or share the feelings of others. It’s like asking a fish to understand hiking.
  • Attention Magnets: Narcissists crave attention like a cat craves tuna. They love being in the spotlight and will do whatever it takes to stay there.
  • Insecurity Warehouse: Despite their inflated self-image, narcissists often harbor deep insecurities. They’re like shiny apples with a rotten core.
  • Boundary Breakers: Narcissists respect personal boundaries about as much as a toddler respects a “do not touch” sign.

We were reminded of the now long and stomach-turning series of Shelton Haynes promotions spilled over the internet in recent months. Neither RIOC nor the community ever gets into the limelight. The latest, Preserving History: Shelton Haynes’ Dedication to Roosevelt Island Landmarks, mentions only one landmark. But “Haynes” is in nearly every sentence.

In the article, Haynes claims credit for restoring the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, a project with which he had scant involvement, never nodding at the real heroes who got it done.

His visionary leadership restored historical landmarks like the Roosevelt Island Lighthouse to their former glory and transformed them into living symbols of the island’s past, present, and future.

The Newsify

This is another in the chain of examples of Haynes and his narcissism embracing each other like maladjusted lovers.

Incompetence From RIOC’s Executive Team

We can start with RIOC’s failure to address the rising crisis involving the MTA’s 63rd Street Tunnel Fixation Project and how it ripples through the community.

Negligence has driven the bulk of seniors and physically challenged residents off the Tram. But the executive team has not even hinted at an answer. Dereliction of duty teams up with incompetence, powered by a lack of the empathy that once was foundational on Roosevelt Island.

And there’s so much else…

  • Four years after it hit crisis level, OMNY for the Tram remains a vision, not a fact.
  • RIOC’s board has stood by, without protest, while the MTA filched a million dollars a year by not fully sharing revenues.
  • Its budget bleeds red ink after huge increases in insurance liability rates – much of it caused by all the lawsuits and investigations for which RIOC hires outside counsel.
  • The threat of a catastrophic tunnel collapse along the East Seawall goes unaddressed, and strapped for cash, the state agency idles.
  • Speeding e-bikes and, recently, motorcycles break the Main Street calm of summer evenings while Public Safety remains out of sight.
  • While crime is rising fast on Roosevelt Island, RIOC sinks back into its “safest community in New York” babble, meaning they have no answer.

We could go on, but the picture is clear enough. While concrete needs go unanswered, RIOC digs its heels into inaction and defending the failing status quo.


These are my opinions after more than 30 years on Roosevelt Island. We all still live in a beautiful place, but it will diminish further if something doesn’t change with RIOC’s detached and incompetent executive team.

I don’t know where change might come from, but it needs to happen. We shouldn’t sit by and wait for the next death in Sportspark or a few more Main Street muggings.

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