RIOC, Controlled by Cuomo Has Lost the Island

Governor Andrew Cuomo to Roosevelt Island: Shut Up & Go Home

Updated 29 weeks ago David Stone
Emily Diaz explains why "Me and my brother go to the Youth Center every day..."
Emily Diaz explains why "Me and my brother go to the Youth Center every day..."
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Harsher language was called for to describe what happened last evening, the night when RIOC's executives and State handlers showed their disdain for Roosevelt Island residents with a raw contempt not seen since the hellish reign of Jerome Blue. An obscenity laced headline stuck in my head all night, but this morning, I did what RIOC was unable to do when they crushed the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, led for 22 years by Charlie DeFino - I put the kids first. I knew they'd be reading, trying to understand what outsiders did to hurt them.

RIOC executives, Susan Rosenthal and Jacqueline Flug, both attorneys with not enough regard for fairness or the law, let alone the community, set the stage for what one resident called "a travesty," shaking his head as the room at 8 River Road emptied, on Tuesday night.

At a Real Estate Advisory Committee meeting, Flug readily conceded that RIOC staff mislead the Board about community sentiment concerning the RI Welcome Monument, but that came only after Historical Society President Judy Berdy exposed the ploy.

New Public Information Officer Alonza Robertson, who should be wondering what sort of characters he's gotten himself involved with, was assigned to present a report on comments collected from residents and visitors about the sculpture. Sentiments, he said, ran 2 to 1 in favor.

But that report was deliberately skewed by Rosenthal's administration. As Berdy quickly showed, numerous emailed comments followed that never made the report. The reason, discovered the next morning, was sickening.

Historical Society President Judith Berdy tried to persuade the Board to pay attention to the community, to no avail.
Historical Society President Judith Berdy tried to persuade the Board to pay attention to the community, to no avail.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

RIOC never even opened the emails, sent to an address they publicized, thumbing their noses at the community.

The emailed comments ran 4 to 1 against installing the RI Welcome Monument. That was reinforced by a unanimous vote from the RIRA Common Council, asking RIOC not to do it.

All that was spurned by Rosenthal, Cuomo & Company.

Confronted by The Daily with the misdeed, General Counsel and Excuse-Maker-in-Chief Jacqueline Flug soon made matters worse.

"RIOC staff made an unintended omission in their presentation to the Real Estate Development Committee on Tuesday night," she wrote in an email. "The omission was immediately acknowledged by RIOC staff. The emails sent to the RIOC email box were not produced but their existence and contents was relayed to the Board Members at length by Judy Berdy of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society.  When the subcommittee members made a motion on the topic of the RI Monument they were fully aware of the existence of the emails in opposition yet chose to vote without reviewing the emails."

Most of that is untrue. The emails "existence and contents" were certainly not known to the Board Members by Judy Berdy or anyone else. Berdy had only a small number on which she'd been cc-ed. The majority were not opened until after the meeting.

But who cares? It was only the public's feelings, and RIOC's comfort zone in ignoring them was blatant.

Flug blew them off: "The comments were not obtained or requested as a means of holding a popular vote on the monument."

That was true. They were solicited as a means of fooling residents into believing RIOC gives a rat's ass about their feelings.

They don't.

But by evening's end, that screw up paled against Governor Cuomo's lackeys destroying a valued Island institution with the same callous disregard for the community.

For now, we're going to set aside whatever motives spurred destroying the Youth Program as well as the public reputation of its founder, Charlie DeFino, and focus instead on how little care was given to a decision made by Cuomo's political appointees, not resident Board Members.

A packed house leaned heavily in favor of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program and Charlie DeFino
A packed house leaned heavily in favor of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program and Charlie DeFino
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

The appointees, RuthAnne Visnauskas and Robert Mujica, Commissioners of Homes and Community Renewal and Budget respectively, neither of which has any connections with our community, sent in flunkies to vote against RIYP, basing their votes on an inquiry dubiously conceived over a few hours by President Rosenthal after it became clear that no amount of finagling was going to unseat Charlie DeFino and the Youth Program as the obvious winner after they won a second request for proposals.

The gist of the inquiry, conducted by a law firm connected to the Cuomo administration and headquartered in, of all places, Syracuse, was ginning up character assassination against DeFino.

To be crystal clear, both Michael Shinozaki and Fay Christian voted in good conscience against awarding funding to the Youth Program. Both spoke feelingly and sincerely about their reasoning, and neither seemed to find any joy in winning.

But the sad truth is that they were outvoted by three other resident Board Members, David Kraut, Margie Smith and Howard Polivy, who also spoke up about their reasoning and, like Shinozaki and Christian, expressed commitment to what they believe is best for the kids.

So, how could this happen? How was the Roosevelt Island Youth Program destroyed in one fell swoop?

Lost in the haze of the debate is Cuomo's years long refusal to fill two empty resident Board seats, the most recently vacated 18 months ago. This unfairly balances the Board in the State's non-resident favor than the law intends. Anyone following recent news about corruption within Cuomo's political family is already aware of the governor's casual relationship with the laws of the State of New York.

So, with flunkies singing the Cuomo/Rosenthal tune, the State overruled expressed community sentiment, including hundreds of emails and dozens of speakers in support of RIYP and DeFino, effectively destroying a Youth Program that has served Roosevelt Island for four decades.

"They don't care," muttered a young resident, one of dozens who showed up to support the Youth Program, as she walked out, her chin sinking into her neck, after the vote.

But she was wrong.

They do care, just not about the kids.

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