Spectrum From Professional Process To Chaotic Blindness

As Cherry Blossom Festival Pulls Together, Common Council Comes Unglued

Updated 16 weeks ago David Stone
Cherry Blossom Festival 2018 was blessed with great weather and solid organization.
Cherry Blossom Festival 2018 was blessed with great weather and solid organization.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

As frustrations burned hot on Friday, a coalition of six disenchanted RIRA Common Council Members wrote to President Lynne Shinozaki, "We, the undersigned, express grave concerns about the 2019 Cherry Blossom Festival (CBF) with respect to abiding by legal, financial, and governance requirements for RIRA, a New York State non-for-profit 501(c)(4) corporation. We immediately request an Emergency Meeting with the following information to be provided, in writing..."

So, Who's in charge of the 2019 Cherry Blossom Festival?

First, the good news...

Two polished and competent organizations, FDR Four Freedoms Park and the J. Luce Foundation appear to be engaged in leadership roles, although who's running what is up for grabs.

These two, neither of which publicly acknowledges the other's participation, have the ability to counterbalance the miasma and disorganization with which RIOC and Common Council leadership have infected the event.

For its part, the J. Luce Foundation said in a March 21st newsletter, "We are co-hosting the annual Cherry Blossom Festival."

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Making no mention of the Foundation, Four Freedoms Park says the Festival is "presented" by RIRA, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation and Four Freedoms Park Conservancy.

Not to be outdone in sewing confusion, RIOC says that it, along with "Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park" are hosts with no mention of RIRA or its Common Council. 

And although local philanthropist Jim Luce always plays a critical role in organizing and presenting the Cherry Blossom Festival, only his Foundation acknowledges itself as a co-host.

(In a conversation Friday afternoon, Common Council President Shinozaki told me that Luce is a member of the Council's Cherry Blossom Festival Committee and especially helpful because of his contacts within the diplomatic community.)

But we still don't know who, if any group of person, is in charge of and taking responsibility for this free-for-all.

Everyone, maybe...?

And, alas, it gets worse.

Crumbling, Disorganized, Angry RIRA Common Council

In one fell February swoop, Shinozaki provoked a substantial evacuation of Common Council membership, including its Treasurer. Its Secretary had already jumped ship over a separate blow up.

Neither has been replaced.

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What threw the Council into disarray was Shinozaki's demand that the group approve a "bare bones" $25,000 budget for organizing and operating the 2019 Cherry Blossom Festival. Council members objected to the absence of any detailed plans for the event or its budget, which alone amounted to as much money as they've raised in total over the last decade.

When Shinozaki and Committee Chair Lydia Tang failed to respond adequately to demands, resignations followed.

Days later, Shinozaki announced that, in a meeting, RIOC promised to cover most of the obligations for security and sanitary concerns, suddenly reducing the Council's obligations to a more manageable $9,520.

The lower costs coupled with a promise from Shinozaki and Tang that details would be forthcoming persuaded enough Common Council members to vote an approval.

Significantly, RIOC's President/CEO Susan Rosenthal failed to acknowledge the commitment Shinozaki reported to the Council.

And, as noted above, RIOC does not, on its own Facebook page, recognize RIRA as playing any role in the Festival.

Which brings us to the accelerated Common Council meltdown... 

An exasperated group of Common Council Members, irked by Shinozaki's failure to come through with promised budget and activity details seasoned with anarchic claims of Cherry Blossom Festival leadership among at least four separate organizations, has demanded an emergency meeting for Monday evening.

As of this posting, Shinozaki has not responded.

From the text of the groups emergency request:

We immediately request an Emergency Meeting with the following information to be provided, in writing, at the start of the requested Emergency Meeting:


As you are well aware, our treasurer Bafode Drame submitted his resignation on February 24th. However, he is still officially the acting Treasurer until you supply him a letter of dismissal, removing him from his responsibilities.

Tiffany Petrakov cannot act as the Treasurer until she is formally nominated and voted by the Common Council.

Therefore, in the absence of the aforementioned corrections, RIRA is in a peculiar/inappropriate position for an event that requires financial transactions.

2- RIOC:

We ask that you show the Common Council details of your official arrangement with RIOC and subsequent permits, and arrangements with other organizations.

As stated in CBF communications, we understand that you are charging vendors and organizations $2,000 per table. If these are RIOC’s tables, provide us copies of the agreements with RIOC that allow you to resell them at $2,000, even for non-for-profit organizations.


Please supply the insurance details for the event, including the application for insurance and the coverage for up to 15,000 persons (number based on previous events' stats).


In the first Emergency Meeting on February 24th, the Common Council Members that attended the meeting approved a budget presented orally with a promise of providing it in writing. We ask that you submit the detailed and complete budget for the $9,520 that was approved.


In other CBF communications, there was a mention of a VIP Event after the festival. Please supply the details of the VIP event as well as its budget.

Completely in character, RIOC failed to respond to related questions The Daily emailed to Rosenthal and community liaisons Erica Spencer-EL and Jessica Murray on Friday. At the State agency, transparency is not part of the routine. 

We're tempted to add an "Only on Roosevelt Island..." reflection...

But that would be redundant. Many readers are probably already shaking their heads in disbelief.

How screwed up does your leadership have to be to make a mess out of an event as benign and beneficial to the community as the annual Cherry Blossom Festival? 


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