Roosevelt Islanders

Q&A with RIOC President and CEO Susan Rosenthal

David Stone
RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal
RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal
Photo Credit: Erica Spencer-EL / Used with Permission

As she finishes her first year at the helm with the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp., Susan Rosenthal agreed to answer some questions about her vision, philosophy and values. Her answers are candid and edited for grammar only.

We picked questions that were general as well as a few that are pertinent to current issues. Rosenthal shares her views on RIOC Board Member roles, proposed elections and her hopes for the future.

"We can make a difference!"

Daily: Now that you’ve reached your first anniversary of sitting in the leader’s chair at RIOC, what has surprised you, both positively and negatively?

Rosenthal: Positively — RIOC has the ability to improve the quality of life on the island. We can make a difference!

Negatively — So many of the projects we want to accomplish and decisions we wish to implement take longer than you would think.

Daily: You’ve made clear your commitment to attacking neglected infrastructure. So far, given frustrations with getting Sportspark back in action and finding a contractor for the Tram elevators, have you rethought your decision? Can you give our readers your philosophical underpinning for that commitment? And, as much as is possible, can you update us on Sportspark, Blackwell House, the Youth Center and other infrastructure initiatives?

Rosenthal: We are still committed to attacking the neglected infrastructure despite our frustrations.

The basis of that commitment is, in part, that our capital is generated from the ground leases, and therefore, the funds should be invested in improving the Island. Given the frustrations, we are attempting to streamline the procurement process by using vendors with existing contracts with the State and seeking panels and/or on-call contracts for plumbers, electricians, architects, road paving, fire alarms and sprinklers, playground repairs and landscaping, elevator repairs, HVAC, etc.

Sportspark — We have been advised by NYC DOB that all that is left is for our plumber to contact DOB to authorize Con Ed to hook up the gas. Con Ed has assured us that they will react as soon as they receive the greenlight from DOB.

Blackwell House — An RFP for the renovations has been posted and bids are due April 24th.

Youth Center — The RFP for the roof has been posted, and our engineering department is working on obtaining bids for the fire alarm, windows, as well finalizing the RFP for the balance of remodeling.

Tram elevator — We are continuing our outreach to potential contractors to encourage bids and we will be posting a revised RFP in the next few weeks.

Last night the Board authorized engineering for repairs for the helix and the plaza off of the Roosevelt Island Bridge. This week the scaffolding went up on the Renwick Ruins. Within the week, we expect the decision on our request for a grant for a bike ramp off Roosevelt Island Bridge.

Daily: Frequently in local media, we see your role and that of RIOC generally cast as political, but isn’t it really more administrative, more like a landlord or guardian than an elected official? For example, you can’t pass laws or initiate taxes. At the same time, you’re free of some of the compromises that come with always working for votes. How do you see it?

Rosenthal: I see it as both political and administrative, political in that we try to understand the needs and wants of the community and respond accordingly. One thing I’ve learned this year is, unfortunately, you cannot make everyone happy! Day to day, our role is mostly administrative in that our task is to ensure that the Island services and operations run smoothly.

"There is no hidden advantage gained by Board Members..."

Daily: Similarly, the role of RIOC Board Members is routinely cast as something other than volunteer work in behalf of the community at large. Is there some hidden advantage Board Members gain that keeps them in their positions or are they just hardworking folks donating time and expertise to the community?

Rosenthal: There is no hidden advantage gained by Board Members in their positions. They are hardworking folks, donating time and expertise to represent the wants and needs of the community. They sincerely care about Roosevelt Island.

Daily: The RIOC Board has been characterized as timidly acquiescing to Governor Cuomo’s demands, delivered by you, without input or objection. Can you comment on the Board’s role and their pliability?

Rosenthal: The Board Members act independently. The only issue in which there has been any such conflict is in the appointment of management. Historically, Members of the Board have expressed a desire to be more involved in the choice of the President/CEO.

"That is not an accurate quote."

Daily: As for your role, you were recently publicly quoted as saying, regarding the upcoming advisory election of RIOC Board Members, “This election is ridiculous! I’m not in favor of it. The Governor can select anyone he chooses. He doesn’t need the community’s input. And I work for the Governor!” Is that an accurate quote, and does it represent your actual position?

Rosenthal: That is not an accurate quote. Indeed, we do seek input from the community. When RIOC was asked to financially support the election, through the production of posters, I did deny that request and stated that I thought that RIOC’s involvement in the election could be deemed inconsistent with the Governor’s statutory power to appoint Members.

Daily: You introduced Jaci Flug as your “Chief Compliance Officer,” in coordination with the Governor’s increased push for accountability. Can you explain what steps are being to taken to guarantee that spending, contracting and governance are as free as possible of misconduct and/or illegal activity?

Rosenthal: Jacqueline Flug is the General Counsel and Vice President and Gretchen Robinson is the Chief Compliance Officer. Both are involved in ethics training and internal controls. Our Fiscal Department, through its procedures and guidelines, under the leadership of our CFO, verifies that all state laws and guidelines are observed in spending, contracting and procurement. In addition, our outside auditors verify every year that our spending and contracting are appropriate. The Governor has also appointed a Special Counsel who works with our Compliance Officer to ensure that our conduct is free of any inappropriate or illegal activity.

Daily: What do you love (if anything!) about Roosevelt Island and your job here?

Rosenthal: Roosevelt Island is a beautiful community. Physically, I love walking along the water front and viewing the flickering of the Manhattan lights in the East River at dusk. The Island is clean. The cherry trees are beautiful. I love the feeling that Roosevelt Island is a small town where everyone knows each other. That feeling is enhanced by community events that RIOC sponsors and the interaction between community residents and RIOC employees.

I also love the tram, the red bus and the fact that our Public Safety Officers know the residents (which helps to keep the crime rate as low as it is).

"Boy would I love a magic wand!"

Daily: Cornell Tech’s upcoming opening will profoundly change Roosevelt Island. What sort of affects do you anticipate or is it just too blue-sky to predict?

Rosenthal: I am excited about Cornell Tech’s upcoming opening. I hope that it encourages more retail on Main Street and I anticipate a new energy on the Island.

Daily: Finally, if you could wave a magic wand, what would you most like to see change here?

Rosenthal: Boy, would I love a magic wand! I would love an increased sense of community between RIOC and residents, resulting in working together to enhance the quality of life for all.

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