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.
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.