Susan Rosenthal Promoted from Action to Permanent President/CEO

Cuomo Thumbs His Nose At Roosevelt Island, Installs Unqualified RIOC Leader

Updated 3 years ago David Stone
Governor Andrew Cuomo in January, 2016
Governor Andrew Cuomo in January, 2016
Photo Credit: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann / Creative Commons 2.0 License

Throwing transparency and deliberation aside, Governor Andrew Cuomo did what was expected, bypassing local opinion as well as qualified candidates to name Susan Rosenthal RIOC's new President/CEO. With a single exception, the Board nodded acquiescence.

Take for granted that, in your personal life, in business and especially in government, a lack of transparency tells you there is something to hide, a secret, a clandestine deal, a flaw kept from the public eye. Operating behind closed doors raises suspicion, and it should.

RIOC and its Board have been accused of harboring private agendas for years, and nasty allegations of personal gain have surfaced. The appointment of Susan Rosenthal as RIOC President and CEO continues a trend of unjustified secrecy and does little to instill trust in government here.

The worst began with the RIOC Board's firing of Steve Shane, "the best president this board ever had," according to longtime Board Member David Kraut in a New York Times article, in June, 2010. Even though the Board is dominated by Roosevelt Island Residents, no official explanation was given for an act behind closed doors that lead to the corruption plagued administration of Leslie Torres.

In a move engineered in Albany and anointed locally, Torres waited to step in with no search or consideration of other candidates. Connected politically, Torres was given a high paying job for which she was unqualified by the RIOC Board and went on to establish a record of absenteeism and lackadaisical management

Torres was allowed to resign invisibly in September, 2012, while rumors of credit card abuse swirled. While she was slammed in the New York Times, no one on the RIOC Board, responsible for both hiring her and overseeing operations, ever accepted responsibility.

Again, in April, 2013, "...without an Executive Search by the RIOC Board and without competing candidates," according to three Board members who abstained from voting, a new President/CEO, Charlene Indelicato, was abruptly hired.

I used "abruptly" ironically. It was abrupt only to the public. As Indelicato later told me in an interview, the hiring process began months before when government insiders who admired her demonstrated management skills approached her.

The process was completely closed and her hiring so out of the blue that my editor interrupted a late dinner, calling to ask me to turn around a researched article about Indelicato overnight.

Roosevelt Island got lucky with Indelicato, though. Hired at a time when RIOC's reputation was at its lowest since the incendiary administration of Jerry Blue in the late 1990s, maybe even lower, Indelicato dug in, healing community wounds with the hiring of Jack McManus to run Public Safety and more.

In March of this year, Indelicato left on good terms to accept a new position closer to her Westchester County home.

With Rosenthal, then Vice President and General Council on hand to fill in, this left Governor Cuomo's team with plenty of time to consider successors.

Maybe someone with Indelicato's credentials could be recruited. Maybe someone local - or willing to become local, as some residents demanded. 

Because New York State is often managed through backroom deals and the trading off of favors, we don't have the slightest clue why six months were needed to decide on Susan Rosenthal, who seemed handpicked from the beginning, above any other qualified candidate.

What's puzzling is that, although she has been a capable attorney in various settings, there is not a shred of experience in Rosenthal's work history suggesting she is qualified to be Roosevelt Island's - or any other community's - de facto unelected Mayor.

In fact, in our own direct observation from two recent, critical situations, her cluelessness about Westview's Affordability Plan and her abandonment of Manhattan Park residents in a dispute over sub metering, she has shown herself to be clearly unqualified.

If your criteria for approval is personal attributes, likability and charisma, Susan Rosenthal ranks high. In public, she is accessible; in private, genuine and straightforward.

If you're looking for someone with an established track record in community management or even engagement, she wouldn't make the first cut. That's even before we get to her unwillingness to get tough with real estate developers.

We can't expect the RIOC Board or its Albany overseers to explain their decisions. Transparency is a dirty word when it comes to decision-making among that group, and although secrecy leads to suspicion, we won't engage in any because no facts are available.

Suspicion, however, there will be.

And that's just how the Board likes it, after again making an abrupt hire without due consideration or any hint of consultation or concern for the wishes of the community they are supposed to serve.

Only Margie Smith, now somewhat accustomed to being a lonely voice for accountability on the Board, spoke up in protest. It was duly noted, as usual, and business proceeded as usual.

While RIOC's Board has characteristically failed to do its job again, there is plenty of blame to be shared by NYS Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James S. Rubin, who chairs the Board and who's agency oversees RIOC; Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has again showed his disregard for local residents; and our elected State representatives, members of Cuomo's own party who were either bypassed or nodded ascent in private.

Both State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, up for reelection and hardly fortified by Cuomo's actions, and State Senator José Serrano, also up for reelection, have spoken out in favor of home rule for Roosevelt Island, saying that local residents ought to have more say in management of this island's community.

Governor Cuomo does not seem to have much regard for their opinions either, although both are expected to support Rosenthal publicly without a single bark of protest.

Roosevelt Island has taken another kick in the shins from New York State, and there isn't anything you or I can do about it, except wait for better representatives in the future. Those in place have let us down again.

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