One Year Ago, RIOC Lost Its Best Exec, John O’Reilly. It Still Hurts.


During a tumultuous period at RIOC and on Roosevelt Island, CFO John O’Reilly kept the state agency stable, acting as de facto CEO. But then, he was fired for undisclosed reasons, next up in a string of dismissals under President Shelton J. Haynes. Repercussions spread into today.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

On a chilly November night in 2018, John O’Reilly and I walked down Main Street to Motorgate where his car was parked. He’d just been approved by the RIOC board as their new Chief Financial Officer.

But we were talking about the Yankees. Their season had just ended another year without a championship. Would they re-sign JA Happ? Who might they pick up as free agents before spring training?

What impressed me was his confidence about the new job, one not many would tackle with its combination of typical challenges and endless political interference. He was so unfazed that he easily switched over to baseball.

We soon found that his self-assurance and President/CEO Susan Rosenthal’s confidence in him were well-earned.

John O’Reilly at RIOC

CFO John O’Reilly in his office at RIOC. Among the agency’s all-star performers, only PSD Chief Jack McManus matched his results.

It wasn’t just his established record as chief financial officer for Bulova where he worked for 24 years that excited Rosenthal. It was his experience in construction projects. RIOC was just beginning infrastructure upgrades paid for with cash earned by opening space for Cornell Tech.

Over the next four years, O’Reilly oversaw a Roosevelt Island transformation. But his work on less visible projects, like getting the messy distribution of public purpose funds untangled, helped the community.

On a larger scale, he fixed flaws in RIOC budgeting that led to, among other things, improvements in RIOC investments and insurance. A board member went on record saying that he’d paid for his own salary and more through is successes.

Then, Dual Calamities

Just as COVID-19 unsettled New York State, RIOC fired its leader, Susan Rosenthal, on dubious grounds and with suspicious intent. With his management experience and tenure at the state agency, CFO John O’Reilly was the obvious choice for taking over.

Yet, he never got a call, not even an interview. With violations of state law flying in all directions, COO Shelton J. Haynes took the reins under Governor Cuomo’s direction.

But the law is, of course, what they are willing to enforce. Under Cuomo figurehead board chair RuthAnne Visnauskas, it wasn’t much. And although Haynes was unqualified by experience, he took over without challenge.

But then, something else happened. A team player by nature, O’Reilly gradually emerged as RIOC’s top executive in practice, if not so designated.

Pandemic and Beyond

Haynes and the board leaned heavily on O’Reilly because the new CEO lacked leadership and other needed skills.

As one ex-employee with extensive industry experience summed up Haynes: “Worst manager of people and leader I unfortunately ever worked with or for. He knows nothing about how the back office works, nothing about construction, no legal knowledge. He is a zero in my book and getting paid for it.”

Nothing happened that reversed that opinion. But O’Reilly, for all intents, bailed him out.

It’s on the record, and you can check it out. In board meeting after board meeting, several of which Haynes missed, even on Zoom, the CFO filled in as de facto CEO. He kept the financial ship in order while COVID challenged the budget.

When present, Haynes was limited to reading off a script written for him by staff while displaying project charts prepared for him – by the finance team.

But in one non-construction related area, O’Reilly’s integrity may have endangered him. He told the board that a giant jump in insurance premiums resulted from an influx of lawsuits under Haynes. Saying they were manageable, he protected Haynes and showed confidence that, over time, he could negotiate a better deal.

That wasn’t true, although it was loyal. More lawsuits piled up, including claims against RIOC in both federal and state courts just this year. The premiums jumped through the roof again, but by then, O’Reilly was gone, fired by the man he’d protected through the past two years.

A Firing Spree

Earlier in 2022, Haynes fired three key employees, two of them with more than a decade of service. He blamed reorganizing communications. But the three, Erica Spencer-EL, Amy Smith and Jessica Cerone, say it was retaliation for whistleblower activities. Their lawsuit is working its way through the courts.

As a series of reduced public events and intense bunkering in Blackwell House showed, the talent was getting thin.

But in a move suggesting he overestimated his abilities, Haynes then fired John O’Reilly. No announcement was made and no excuse was offered. But Haynes’s failures at keeping strong staff members on the payroll were already well-known.

As a replacement, Haynes backfilled with a more pliant Assistant CFO Daeman Di Stefano. After a series of shaky performances at board meetings suggesting improper influence in covering up serious flaws, he resigned. He spent only a year and a half at RIOC.

And with another longtime finance employee and key player, Robert Henry, also recently fired by Haynes, the gap left behind by O’Reilly’s leaving is big enough for a Red Bus gliding through without a scratch.


Di Stefano left at a crucial time. RIOC’s board must approve a preliminary budget plan and send it off to Albany this month. The creaky and effete board approves everything, as we know, but this is a roadmap for Roosevelt Island spending for 2024 and beyond.

Although Di Stefano probably helped get something together before escaping, how good can it be and who presents it?

“Word on the street,” we’re told, is that RIOC’s in “panic mode.” If judged by recent events, that rings true. COO Mary Cunneen, who may not be qualified for that position, sources say, is in charge of finding a replacement.

CEO Haynes, as with so much else, seems to be missing.

About Author

Leave a Reply

Previous Story

When Kindness Clucks: The Hidden Human Cost of Cruelty in Factory Farms and Labs

Next Story

Tips for Increasing Your Home’s Property Value

Latest from Featured

0 $0.00
%d bloggers like this: