The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation Board of Directors voted Thursday night to withdraw the hotly contested Youth Center operator grant. The vote paints an uncertain future for the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, which has operated the center at 506 Main Street for the past decade and served youth on the Island for nearly 40 years. The group has received funding from RIOC to operate the center through March 31, though they have said they may have to close their doors sooner.
[Update: RIYP says it will cease operation as of Friday, March 2. RIOC has committed to operating the center's afterschool program until future notice.]
The vote followed a monthlong investigation of RIYP Executive Director Charles DeFino by outside counsel. The results, presented to RIOC earlier this week, stated there was “sufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. DeFino did in fact make inappropriate comments on several occasions...These included: screaming, yelling, or cursing at Roosevelt Island residents; whistling or making offensive comments to women while walking on the street or in public areas; using racial epithets when referring to children of color; making inappropriate remarks to or about children concerning their sexuality.”
Nearly 100 members of the public attended the tense meeting. Several took to the mic during the public session to offer last minute, impassioned pleas in support of RIYP and DeFino in particular. Others strongly urged the Board to choose someone else.
The Board was as split as the audience. The decision came down to a 4-3 vote, with David Kraut, Margie Smith, and Howard Polivy all voting against the motion to withdraw the award.
Following the vote, dozens of Islanders walked out, some chanting, “Gentrification.”
“In times like tonight, nobody wins,” said RIOC President Susan Rosenthal after the meeting.
We will be updating this story as more information comes in.