Is Governor Kathy Hochul afraid of Shelton Haynes, RIOC’s deeply unpopular President/CEO? What else explains her failure to remedy the problem of a leader that 92% of Roosevelt Islanders want gone? Why didn’t she stand behind her own team when they were accused of vile conduct by Haynes and Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson. An absence of answers, the Cuomo legacy, freeze a community already short on leadership.
by David Stone
A couple of things need clearing up first.
Number one: Shelton Haynes is not a racist. He’s a believer in promoting African-Americans and is most comfortable working with them. He surrounds himself with others whom he values for unquestioned loyalty.
But acting from a lack of personal self-confidence should not be confused with racism.
Second – and importantly – no evidence suggests he connived with anyone in a plot to fire his predecessor, Susan Rosenthal. A better explanation harks back to Bob Dylan: “You just happened to be there, that’s all.”
Yes, Haynes undermined Rosenthal, secretly recording a telephone conversation with her that, according to court records, he played back for other African-American employees in an effort at undermining her.
Sure, it’s super-sleazy, but its exposure to a state investigator was the work of someone else. That it escorted him into power was not something he planned.
Step One: A Racist Move Leading to Hochul’s Being Afraid of Haynes
A rapid and ragtag move by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive team was as racist as it gets and targeted Rosenthal. A Caucasian woman lost her job because the Albany operation saw a way to replace her with an African-American male – significantly on the holiday, Juneteenth.
They went so far as accusing Rosenthal of being a racist. In reality, she was a long-time civil rights advocate who unofficially pushed affirmative action at RIOC. She nurtured Haynes, singing his praises to state officials to advance his career.
Haynes was out of town when it all came down, dealing with a family emergency in Georgia. He got a couple of disconcerting calls, one of which, evidence suggests, led to his playing back the recording to a state investigator – over the phone.
The state, though, has never coughed up that evidence, and RIOC said, in a FOIL response that they don’t have it. That makes it more a chimera than evidence.
You can’t turn reality inside out, framing Rosenthal as a racist, with compliance, and that came straight from the top.
To begin with, every one of Rosenthal’s accusers – from the executive chamber on down – violated the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) guidelines. Accusations of misconduct used as evidence were never reported at the time they occurred if they occurred.
And despite core governing regulations, Rosenthal was never given a chance to defend herself. Led by chair RuthAnne Visnauskas, the Cuomo-appointed commissioner of Homes & Community Renewal, RIOC’s board rushed to judgment.
But there was no other need for the rush. There was no emergency – except, for the Cuomo acolytes, the timing. On Juneteenth.
And they pushed Haynes, still out of town, into Rosenthal’s chair without considering any other, perhaps better-qualified candidates. Especially those not playing a role, however inadvertently, in her dismissal.
It was a recipe for all that followed.
The board meeting itself was illegal, rushed and lacking required public notices or even a record. There is little reason to doubt that orders cannonballed south from Albany: Get this done before the holiday is over.
Who’s stopping a hard-rolling Andrew Cuomo glowing in the light of his COVID-19 heroism?
Who’s Afraid of Haynes and Why?
Inheriting numerous problems left in a pile after Cuomo resigned, Hochul at first tried a more responsive and accountable approach. However that worked elsewhere, it failed on Roosevelt Island.
Tasked with demonstrating RIOC’s approach to greater transparency and accountability, Haynes pitched a tentative plan directly to Hochul. It was badly composed and filled with errors. That may explain why the statewide requirement was dropped for RIOC.
But after a promising start in the CEO chair, Haynes had fast gone downhill with Roosevelt Island and Roosevelt Islanders.
That started with rushing into the ill-planned reconstruction of Southpoint Park. In the end, it looked so bad that no one from RIOC showed up for the opening. There was no ribbon-cutting, and photos later released by Hochul’s office leaned heavily on twilight skyline views – of Manhattan.
But what made it much worse was a subsequent attack on Ceruzzi and the Wildlife Freedom Foundation, apparently in retaliation for protests against Southpoint Park’s pending devastation.
Led by Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson, a Haynes ally, RIOC demanded – for the first time ever – rent for using RIOC property. No other Roosevelt Island nonprofit had ever been charged rent, but Robinson played hardball. “No negotiations,” she fumed.
Only intervention by state assembly member Rebecca Seawright saved WFF from bankruptcy.
Loyalty, Revenge and Retaliation
Time passed. And many more grew afraid of Haynes.
His longtime friend and unqualified RIOC COO, Altheria Jackson, spread the word that Haynes was proud of his track record of firing people without consequences. Whether true or not, another executive reported “hearing that a thousand times,” from Haynes himself.
Bracing himself with a buffer of loyalists, he gradually raked out of RIOC many longtime employees and talented others, using an array of rationales. One result is, today, a plethora of lawsuits by terminated employees accusing Haynes and cohort of everything from racism to whistleblower retaliation.
A troubling fact, though is Haynes’s failure to show any remorse for employees terminated, long term, short term, African-American or others.
Similarly, Haynes did not express any remorse for the victim of the Sportspark drowning on his watch, nor for his family.
This things make him seem indifferent to others’ suffering, maybe even a little cruel.
RIOC is spending a king’s ransom on outside law firms defending his administration, and that doesn’t count work on more than a dozen investigations.
None of this proves that Haynes is guilty of anything, but it does show what the “You just happened to be there, that’s all” advantage won him.
But Is Hochul Really Afraid of Haynes?
Of course she is, and Haynes has swung the retaliation axe against her, the community and a number of state employees and elected officials.
Boxed into a corner by Cuomo’s sticking him into a slot for which he lacked experience and qualifications, Haynes – while creating seas of dissatisfaction – has not countered with achievements of his own.
Grabbing credit for what others did and you stepped into is not the same as doing it yourself.
The quagmire Cuomo created has led to a barely functioning RIOC operation, frustration, lawsuits and investigations. None of it had to be, except for Cuomo’s lust for scoring political points.
Before the deluge, Haynes was a publicly cheerful and happy man, satisfied as a second or third hand behind Rosenthal. A family man to the core, he loved spending casual time with his kids, often showing his pride in their achievements.
But today, he’s on extended medical leave because of anxiety he and Robinson say, in a lawsuit, was caused by racism within the state hierarchy. Along with Robinson, who the lawsuit says is also suffering from anxiety, he is suing multiple state operatives.
As mentioned above, Hochul did not stick up for her own team under assault. Nor for loyal elected officials. Nor for the free press.
What else caused this callousness, if not fear of Haynes?
Full Disclosure: In their lawsuit, Haynes and Robinson accuse me of leading a racisist backlash against them, reacting to Rosenthals’s dismissal. They claim that countless “racist articles” published in The Daily garned the support of Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and Senator Liz Krueger. The state overseerers refusal to allow them to defend themselves against us, they say, was based on racism.
The Haynes/Robinson lawsuit, filled with preposterous claims and certain to be thrown out because of technical errors has, however, set Team Hochul back on its heels.
A trap left by Cuomo and never dealt with effectively by Hochul has left us here. And there are no signs that Hochul has grown enough spine to deal with the mess.
Haynes will soon return because state government is long on promised ideals but short on focus or fairness.
The show will go on.