Tag Archive: Deputy Chief Clerk

Jun 28 2013

Did The BOE Fire Her Because She’s Black?

Rolaine Antoine

Rolaine Antoine, a former BOE employee explains why our electoral process is always in a state of jeopardy.

An Ulrich loyalist demanded a BOE employee to give up her office chair and forced her in the corner, right before she was terminated.

For far too long we’ve heard stories about the bungled mismanagement over at the Board of Elections, but no one has ever written about specific instances which embody the status quo. It’s common knowledge that the entire building is a refuge for nepotism and political favors. And like most organizations, public or private, it’s subject to office politics; the only difference at the BOE is that these are the people whom are entrusted by the people of New York to oversee the entire electoral process.

But there are victims, countless victims that are in fact professionals, executives, people who bring leadership and experience to the table that are often the first to be fired with politically trumped up charges only to be replaced by those less qualified. Rolaine Antoine was one such person. Please take note that it’s such cut-throat politics and paybacks which gets in the way of real work – but not just any work- the sacred duty of carrying out the democratic process. This is one of those stories.

On Wednesday Rolaine Antoine, mother of two, went to work at the BOE, just as usual. She was prompt, on time and ready to work – the same way she has been for the past two years. Colleagues said she’s intelligent, resourceful, respectful, but above all else a pleasure to work with. During her tenure she was never written up for any reason, never complained or made an out of place comment. She’s the kind of employee many supervisors dream about having. As a former Wall Street executive, Rolaine had the experience and knowledge of logistics, office management, and operations to carry out the work of the BOE – and by all accounts she did her job well, that is until they didn’t need her anymore, her refusal to sign a petition just two months ago which circulated the Board asking Phil Ragusa to step down as Chairman may have been her undoing.

Regardless of the political consequences, Rolaine refused to yield, she thought it would be best to let the voters decide, and then she was terminated.

As a civic minded citizen from Queens Village, Rolaine quickly became a local leader. If there was a problem in the neighborhood she would get to work on solving it. Her accolades led to her election as a Republican District Leader, recognition for her activism on behalf of civic organizations. “I wanted to help people vote and it gave me a great feeling knowing that working at the BOE was an extension of that”. Rolaine couldn’t have been happier. She had the opportunity to enlighten new immigrants and members of a community as to how to become active and responsive to issues that pertain to where they lived. Working at the BOE gave her great satisfaction, that is, until Wednesday morning.


Letter of termination.

On Wednesday morning, Rolaine’s supervisor Alba Martinez, who was running the absentee department approached her desk. “I needed to report to the Deputy Chief Clerk to return the chair.” Which chair? Asked Rolaine.  Martinez replied, “the one you are sitting in”.  Rolaine was confused, well where do you want me to sit? Martinez pointed to a broken chair and said “all chairs belong to the BOE”. “Why does she want my chair?”  Martinez said she didn’t know, “I am just the messenger bringing you the message.”

Rolaine was beside herself. “Well since you’re the messenger, tell her [Deputy Chief Clerk Gisela Mengler] I will not give up my chair and if she wants it, she’ll have to come down and get it.” Martinez stormed out of the office. About an hour later, Scott Jordan and Gisela Mengler, the Deputy Chief Clerk,  instructed Rolaine that she had to give up her seat, that she had to give it up for someone else that needed it, meanwhile she was the only one that was asked. Rolaine was a little confused, she had the chair since she began working at the Board of Elections, and in the meantime all of the employees had seen new chairs being delivered – there was even a new chair wrapped in plastic in the Deputy Chief’s office. So why should she have to give up hers? After all it was where Rolaine did the work she was paid to do and there were plenty more available. It all seemed so trivial. Racial flashbacks had been stoked. How often is it that a hardworking African-American female is told to give up her seat and go to the backroom?   While they towered above her desk, Rolaine looked up at them and asked to speak to Commissioner Michel – she wanted Michel to tell her she had to give up her chair and then and only then she would comply. Unfortunately he couldn’t be reached in time. Shortly afterward, Scott Jordan and Robert Pataky presented her with a letter of termination. “The reason for your termination is due to insubordination and racial accusation,” it read. Rolaine was devastated. What racial accusation? She had only asked if her firing had anything to do with being an African-American, which at the time appeared to be a reasonable question given the circumstances, and especially since Michel’s appointment, there has been discrimination against most of the minorities, who have been severely disciplined or let go, she said.

When Michael Michel came in, he came with a voracious axe and basically terminated people who were associated or deemed to be loyal with the County organization. Rolaine was the last of the Mohicans. But she couldn’t just be terminated, she had an excellent record, never been written up, always on time, well-liked by colleagues and poll workers. The musical chair scenario turned out to be an elaborate ruse to terminate her.

A culture of fear.

What the voters need, they are not getting because all of this is going on she explained, “we are failing the voters. When they complain, they are right,” referencing the slowdowns, technical malfunctions, and logistical mishaps which plague every election administered by the BOE.

“Everyone is working out of fear…and you can’t run an office with employees that are working out of fear… it’s getting worse and worse because people fail to speak up.”

Rolaine was talking about the blatant good ol’ boys club the BOE has morphed into. According to Rolaine, Councilman Eric Ulrich put his key people onboard right down to the poll workers. He even had Bart Haggerty, whose brother embezzeled millions from Mayor Bloomberg, now a BOE employee as a lead trainer in charge of instructing the very people that will be training all of the poll workers. All of this happened right after the new commisssioner, Michael Michel, was placed into power following a paper mishap. And when he came in, he was ready to fire anyone that was loyal to the County organization. Rolaine said these new people that were handpicked will report directly to Ulrich and company with no problem, hence their hiring.

In all fairness there’s something odd about a partisan political hack hired to oversee a “fair election.” A conflict of interest? While she never had a conversation with Ulrich, the writing was on the wall. “Ulrich is running the show,” she said.

Just two months ago, Councilman Ulrich came into the office to meet with Gisela Mengler, to ask her to stay on board and postpone her retirement. They needed her, after terminating Deputy Chief Clerk Marie Lynch and until they placed an Ulrich pal in the seat. Rumor had it she agreed. Now Gisela isn’t well-liked at the Board, she was rude and contrite but that didn’t matter, she was politically connected. Rolaine was not exempt from the hostile work environment Gisela had created for her and to make matters worse, the woman she was about to fire was the one who had written letters in response to voter complaints which Gisela was responsible for writing and who also prepared reports that were too complex for Gisela to produce!

In the aftermath, Rolaine reached out to her Union President Gwendolyn Youngblood, a labor attorney as well as the media, and she’s not going to stop there. Rolaine Atoine is a hero, a hero to everyone that had been fired for trumped up political reasons. Her termination is the reason why the Board of Elections is dysfunctional, why our democracy is constantly in jeopardy and why our electoral process is the laughingstock of the nation.


Permanent link to this article: http://queens-politics.com/2013/06/did-the-board-or-elections-fire-her-because-shes-black-rolaine-antoine/

May 25 2012

When Your Time Is Up This Is What They Do

(l to r) Leroy Comrie, Dan Halloran, Katherine James, Shirley Hintley, Ruben Wills, and Serph Maltese present Katherine with a proclamation signed by Speaker Christie Quinn and the entire Queens republican and democratic delegation for her service to the borough. A few lines of the proclamation had to be extracted so all the signatures would fit on it.

A seemingly innocent invitation is causing a storm of controversy in GOP party politics and has prompted the ‘retirement’ of one of its top officials.

In a recent article by City and State, an anonymous reader sent a copy of an invitation for Catherine James’s Retirement Party which set off a fury of allegations. Katherine, the former Deputy Chief Clerk at the Board of Elections, was accused of soliciting campaign contributions for her ‘retirement party’ using BOE resources, according to the article. However, the headline, RETIRING QUEENS BOE EMPLOYEE USED OFFICE RESOURCES TO SOLICIT “CONTRIBUTIONS” TO POLITICAL CLUB is erroneous and misleading.

Katherine James did not know that BOE resources were used for the invitation. Katherine did not even know about the party as she wasn’t part of a planning or organizing committee and she certainly didn’t oversee the design of the invitation. The event was a complete surprise.

Some questions remain. Why would a Republican club – a club where Katherine is a board member – list the BOE as the return mailing address? Did she think 300 recipients would turn the other cheek? Perhaps it was a snafu, a really brainless snafu that screams conflict of interest to every recipient both democrats and republicans alike? Sounds like nonsense.

For 50 years Katherine has been around a political element. We doubt she’d make a rookie mistake or mastermind her own destruction. Nevertheless anyone with an axe to grind now has the perfect stump for a clean chop.

Tensions were brewing up. On March 24th the Queens County Executive committee informed Katherine there would be a meeting to discuss endorsements of congressional candidates. Katherine served as one of the highest-ranking officers of that committee as the Vice-Chair. On the day of the event she couldn’t attend due to a family commitment. She returned to work on Monday to hear that Chairman Phil Ragusa endorsed Alan Jennings, a democrat, through a Wilson Pakula in the new fifth congressional district. Katherine is the District Leader for the 32nd AD, which is an AD in the 5th congressional district. Katherine didn’t get a phone call and it was in her hometown where Jennings would receive the GOP line. She felt bypassed and refused to go to future events unless amends were made.

Despite the makings of a quirky political feud, it’s unlikely that Ragusa or Tabone sent the problematic invitation. Both are smart enough not to encourage negative press on the Party. So, then, who engineered the mail piece? Who would benefit from Katherine’s retirement and an opening of a coveted patronage post? Was another audit from the Comptroller’s office or a visit from the DOI part of a calculated risk – a means to an end? Or was it more sinister, a power-grab, or retribution for a past offense?

It appears that all members of the Queens County Executive committee come under the spotlight for a periodic scrutiny and it was Katherine’s turn to finally be picked off by forces unknown.

Was it the butler? The strategic plan to take out the low guy on the totem pole was likely executed by whoever is upset with Tabone, Ragusa, or Steven Graves who is said to yearn for the day when he can throw County under the bus even though there are allegations of corruption, fraud, and bribery against Graves.  Adding insult to injury, rumors are floating around that stories are being pitched to the NY Post for the final humiliation.

City and State mentions Katherine as the President of the Women’s Republican Party of Queens. This is incorrect. Katherine resigned that position when Serphin Maltese and Frank Padavan were the last two Queens Republicans serving in the Senate. Katherine served ex officio as Vice-President.

Katherine is the mother of four children, now adults. Her husband is a retired Fire Captain. She attended Queens and Brooklyn College and got her start in politics when she went to the Conservative party for guidance and education. She ran for the school board where she won and served for 10 years. Katherine was also the NYS Common Cause downstate director and she worked for the Jamaica Service program for older adults – a 36-year-old social service agency, including ten years of service in the City Council.

Katherine carved out a reputation in Queens as an activist. She volunteered for the Salvation Army, the Girl Scouts and a myriad of other service based organizations. Years later, she heard of a vacancy at the BOE for a republican office worker. Then-chairman Serphin Maltese met Katherine and quickly hired her for her energy and enthusiasm.

Katherine James didn’t willfully retire; she was fired and removed from the payroll. The headline is the proof in the pudding. She could have felt it was coming down the pipeline, but she probably didn’t think she would be framed and caught up in a web of allegations at the twilight of her career. Down at the BOE, Marie Lynch, the former Director of Equipment  has become the new Deputy Chief Clerk. For Katherine, the way it was done was neither professional nor commensurate with the service she performed to the county of Queens.

We call that Queens politics.



Permanent link to this article: http://queens-politics.com/2012/05/was-katherine-james-set-up-to-vacate-her-post/

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