July 27, 2016
United States Attorney for
the Southern District of New York
United States Attorney's Office
1 St. Andrew's Plaza
New York City, New York 10007
Eric T. Schneiderman
Attorney General State of New York
Office of the Attorney General
Albany, NY 12224-0341
New York, New York 10271
Scott M. Stringer
New York City Comptroller
Office of the Comptroller City of New York
One Centre Street
New York, NY 10007
Robert L. Capers
United States Attorney for
the Eastern District of New York
United States Attorney's Office
271 Cadman Plaza East
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Public Advocate for the City of New York
Office of the Public Advocate of New York
1 Centre Street, 15 Floor North.
New York, New York 10007
Re: Using Your Powers to Halt Immediately the Corrupt Sale and Shrinking of the Brooklyn Heights Library
Dear Honorable Law Enforcers & Public Guardians:
In just weeks, weeks that might more readily measured in days, New Yorkers and the communities of Brooklyn and the city can expect to suffer the loss of the Brooklyn Heights central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn. It’s Brooklyn’s second largest and second most valuable library, an entrusted asset that was meant to be and should be preserved. . .
. . . This is what will happen only if our elected officials and public guardians do not do what they are able to stop the destruction. That’s why we write this letter to you in your official capacities: We ask you, without delay, to exercise your powers to protect the public.
This central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn is a sturdy well-designed building that was substantially expanded and fully upgraded in 1993. It is five years newer and more up-to-date than adjacent Forest City Ratner building (part of the same real estate parcel for development purposes) that houses Hillary Clinton’s national campaign headquarters. It is, significantly, one of Brooklyn’s very best libraries, probably its second best, in terms of the computer resources it affords, but it is even more important for what it was designed to be as a library, a place to find and discover books, including service as a federal depository.
The stories offered about why the library is to be destroyed would all be laughable jokes if they were not so tragically inane and cynically concocted. The library is to be sold for a pittance, less than the value of the property as a vacant lot, and this critically valuable and irreplaceable library is far from a vacant lot. While benefitting the real estate industry the sale of the property deeply harms and wrongs the public with the property being handed off for less than its tear-down value to an inferior bidder, one of the low bidders who bid $6 million less than another. That $6 million left on the table in a deal with a developer who has a political contribution relationship with the mayor under investigation is a huge negative adjustment to the paltry amount the sale will likely net. Like the New York Public Library’s sale of the Donnell Library, the sale of this Library is likely to net the Brooklyn Public Library less than $20 million when all is accounted for.
Moreover, and more important, the library that is being sold and shrunk to net such a small amount would cost more than $120 million to replace.
“A Stitch In Time” vs. “Spilled Milk”
These are not matters we should wait to lament in retrospect. These are reasons for you to exercise your powers now to prevent this imminent tragedy and injustice.
Now that the so-called “replacement” for the Donnell Library has opened, the lessons afforded thereby teach us in retrospect everything we need to know about why the loss of the Brooklyn Heights must be actively stopped by your intervention now, not grieved in the future as an unfortunate past. See: New York Magazine, The New 53rd Street Library Is Nice, Unless You Like to Read Books, by Justin Davidson, July 12, 2016, (“a real-estate” that “sloughed off the leftovers on the public”) City Journal, Books in the Basement- Midtown Manhattan's new library falls short of what a world-class city should provide to its citizens, by Nicole Gelinas, July 1, 2016, (“one of the worst decisions made by a local public institution in decades”. . “ what is the city's excuse for asking people to be happy that they've been relegated to the basement?”) Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, On Donnell's Replacement & $375 Cocktails, by Jeremiah Moss, July 13, 2016. Jeremiah's Vanishing New York: On Donnell's Replacement & $375 Cocktails, by Jeremiah Moss, July 13, 2016, (“a surreal nightmare of modern neoliberal urbanization” that “seems doomed to fail as a library.”) New York Times, N.Y. / Region-An Amphitheater- A Laptop Bar. It's a New York Library Like No Other.- Building Blocks, By David W. Dunlap, June 20, 2016 (“secretive plutocrats buying investment aeries in the sky while public institutions are relegated to basements”).
Clearly, although it is nearly nine years since the impending loss of Donnell was suddenly announced this is not a plundering the public is prepared ever to forget.
The closing of the Donnell, another beloved and critically valuable cental destination library, was announced accompanied by the telling of multiple fictions that included the assuring promise that the library that “replaced” Donnell would likewise bear the name Donnell. Quite tellingly, as it turns out, library officials haven’t dared to christen the shrunken, sunken inadequate library “Donnell.”
The sale of Donnell, the sacrificing of public benefit for private profit it represents, is another matter that has long cried out for the delivery of an investigation report to the public. We look to you for such a report which we consider long overdue. Hopefully statutes of limitations will not have been carelessly allowed to lapse. That is why we have been a conduit of information respecting the same to your offices. Especially when the private profit and luxury is so conspicuous, it is naive to believe that such abjectly bad decisions respecting our libraries have been made out of sheer stupidity and nothing else. We credit city and library officials, both present and former with far more intelligence than that.
As has been documented, the sale, shrinking and sinking of the Brooklyn Heights Library is not only closely modeled on the sale, shrinking and sinking of the Donnell Library, behind the scenes there is a linkage of the people involved and the timing with which these plans were launched. If not stopped here and now, this past will be prologue for depredation of even more libraries, and likely, with that, more attacks on our public commons as we incite developers by demonstrating how easily juicy deals can be dreamed up to wrest away the public’s property.
All of your offices have investigative powers. And your attendant powers extend beyond mere investigation. The purpose of investigation is not to Monday morning quarterback. We may punish after investigations and after bad deeds have occurred, but we do it in order to deter future misconduct and protect the public from harm. Although investigations may take time to mature and carefully document, the idea of having investigative powers is not to let harm be done and then ask for an accounting afterwards. While often we may stand back and wait on the theory that we are giving people enough “rope to hang themselves,” the bottom line should always be to do everything necessary to prevent harm to the public and that means doing what can be done to prevent it before it occurs. The destruction of a library that would cost over $120 million to replace, if it could be replaced at all, is not a small matter to let slide by.
Individually, the powers of each of your offices are immense; collectively what you can accomplish is utterly staggering.
Among other things, including prosecutorial powers, the office of the New York State Attorney General is charged with oversight and regulation of the conduct of public charities to ensure that assets entrusted to them are neither squandered nor raided for private gains or purposes other than intended. In fact, as of 2014 these powers were statutorily augmented to strengthen the "Attorney General's power to police fraud and abuse" by, among other things, "granting clear power to bring judicial proceedings to unwind interested-party transactions."
Similarly, it was only last July that Comptroller Scott Stringer commanded headlines informing the public about how he was expanding the use of his offices powers to investigate and root out corruption in connection with which he unveiled a new “Research and Investigation Unit. . comprised of a team of lawyers and data analysts with extensive backgrounds in financial, criminal and public corruption investigations,” the investigation team being “a powerful addition to our arsenal” with their work enabling us “to dig even deeper into the agencies we audit as we fulfill our mandate to root out fraud and save City taxpayers' hard-earned money.” The unit’s first work product involved a library system investigation. Indeed, as of February 5, 2014 Comptroller Stringer assurance to the public was already in place that he was going “to look at the three library systems” and “to examine, through a performance audit and a financial audit” the”entire system,” noting that “there is a big city stake in the libraries.”
And clearly the Brooklyn Heights Library abuses are connected with other investigations the Comptroller has underway. When we last questioned Comptroller Stringer about the Brooklyn Heights Library sale this year he brought up by analogy his current participation in investigating the very similar set of facts concerning the Rivington House nursing home deal where City Hall turned a nursing home over to a developer making contributions to the Mayor, extinguishing its nonprofit public purpose so that it could be replaced by luxury condominiums. While de Blasio said, as facts were unearthed, that the deal should not have been done and that it happened without the involvement of anyone high up in his administration, an investigative report shows that the most senior City Hall officials charged by de Blasio with handling such matters, Deputy Mayors Alicia Glen and Anthony Shorris and Shorris’s chief of staff, Dominic Williams, were quite informed about the transaction. The de Blasio administration is stonewalling against the release of additional emails that would show more.
Likewise, de Blasio and City Hall officials, Deputy Mayor Glen particularly, were exceedingly aware and involved in the deal to shrink and sink the Brooklyn Heights Library. Despite the emails from the investigation of the Rivington deal, that investigated deal, like the library deal, is inexplicably progressing despite its crookedness and the ways in which it substantially shortchanges the public.
As has been dramatically demonstrated with multiple high profile cases, the U.S. Attorney’s office, particularly the U.S. Attorney’s office for New York’s Southern District can effectively pursue and prosecute political corruption including malfeasance, and the abuse and neglect of duty by elected public officials. Conversely, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is able to work with local elected officials so that their combined powers and jurisdiction doesn’t leave gaps where the public is told that `nothing can be done’ in the face corruption and abuse.
Whatever reassurance may flow from seeing elected officials prosecuted after the fact for feeding at the public trough, the deterrence value of such actions is severely truncated if the financial deals fueling such corruption are permitted to come to full fruition regardless. The public is rightly skeptical of any true progress if a continuing round robin of indictments, prosecutions, convictions and removals does nothing more than clear the decks of one set of elected leaders just so that another will be less impeded to step up into their place whilst the powerful interests driving things behind the scenes still benefit and deals continue to be consummated at a huge toll to the public. Real deterrence requires shutting down those deals.
The New York Times has become adept at what is now almost a signature leitmotif where it sorrowfully eulogizes, after the fact, losses that should not have occurred, losses that might have been prevented except for the Times own failure to exercise journalistic vigilance, take note of what was obvious, investigate and sound the alarm. Notably, such commiseration and belated fulfillment of “paper of record” functions doesn’t upset any financial applecarts and thus does not align the paper with or serve the public interest.
Similarly, it doesn’t serve for an ascending set of political hopefuls to lament and lambast the conduct of and loss caused by ousted leaders if they, themselves, did not do everything they could in their power to prevent the harm visited upon the public.
Where Will the Blame Be Cast, Where Should the Blame Be Cast For the Destruction of the Brooklyn Heights Library?
There are those who are no doubt prepared to say that, in the end, the destruction of the Brooklyn Heights Library will be laid squarely at the feet of a mayor, Bill de Blasio, with many now being eager to predict his imminent departure. Mr.de Blasio is the man who, while running for mayor, said of our multiple libraries besieged by sale schemes specifically including the Brooklyn Heights Library in his list:
“It's public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties”So well did Mr. de Blasio know of the real estate developers “right behind the curtain” coveting the libraries that just months later, even while still campaigning he was taking money from the development team to whom he would later award sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library.
To only cast blame on and then expediently shed from public office such a politician as Mr. de Blasio would be too simple and would be to give into a bad habit in corruption investigation where we only blame elected officials for selling out the public, excusing developers and others involved in these schemes as their innocent victims. Mr. de Blasio’s sale of the library to a low-bidding, campaign-contributing developer for $6 million less than another bidder would not have been possible without the complicity and coordination of Brooklyn Public Library trustees and officials in “charitable” office already intent to sell off, and rationalize post hoc, the library for a minuscule fraction of its true value to the public as a library.
Certainly the developer and those on his team with him are very far from innocent or bone fide purchasers for value and they are not ignorant of the machinations in which they were participating, but it is clear from the minutes of the Brooklyn Public Library trustees meeting that concoction of the Heights library scheme pre-existed the selection of the developer as well as any knowledge on the part of those formulating plans that Mr. de Blasio would be mayor and participate in the scheme’s final effectuation.
The long secret plan to sell the library was developed contemporaneously and with an overlap of players with the sale of Donnell (announced in 2007) which it so closely mimics. At the BPL October 11, 2011 trustee meeting, BPL president Ms. Johnson made absolutely clear on the record the goal of locking the next mayor (the mayor to follow then Mayor Michael Bloomberg) into the real estate plans that were secretly underway. Reporting on the real estate plan, Ms. Johnson “reminded the Board of past conversations about the plan and let them know that the goal was to get far enough into the plan with this Mayor so that when a new Mayor takes office, the plan will be deep in progress and he or she will not derail it. She thanked Board Chair Crowell and Trustee Kimball for their work helping with moving it forward.”
At the same time, in order to avoid public objection, information about the BPL’s real estate plans were being kept secret and, as Linda Johnson told the BPL trustees who did not object, “in strict confidence.” The BPL’s secrecy continues today with a copious amount of information we have informed you about that should be public that is being withheld by a stonewalling BPL, including information legally requested and required to be made available pursuant to Freedom of Information Laws.
Although the Brooklyn Heights Library was entrusted to the BPL for the benefit of the public, the plan that was fixed for its sale and shrinkage down to a preordained 15,000 feet above aground, was intended to be justified with post hoc rationalizations no matter what preceded and that included, not having any assessment of its value the public, the community’s need for it, or what would be paid for the library or netted by the sale. Among other things, the so-called “replacement” for the library has apparently still never been designed.
While de Blasio will no doubt be properly blamed for signing onto this crooked deal, the developer and the trustees, not his innocent victims, will also be properly blamed. The public will also have a potent recall of those who failed to exercise their power to stop this deal if it is not stopped.
Again, we ask you to stop this deal now.
Comptroller Stringer, we thank you for the December 9, 2015 letter from your office to the de Blasio administration addressed to Deputy Mayor Glen (also, as per the investigation emails, Glen is also involved in the Rivington House nursing home scandal) in which you made clear what folly it was for the administration to be pretending that the sale of this library could somehow accord with the public interest.
Since that time there was the last minute revelation of the backroom deal worked out at City Hall, pushed through by Deputy Mayor Glen, that made the deal significantly worse, especially with respect to City Hall’s blank check raid of Department of Education funds for the benefit of the developer, a whole new matter demanding investigation.
In addition, similarly, it was after your letter was delivered that your assessment that the value of the library was being disregarded with the public grossly shortchanged was confirmed and documented by revelations that the de Blasio administration and library trustees and officials had acted in concert to award the hand-off of the library to an inferior low bidder.
There is much here you can prevent and much here you should prevent. In their trustees meeting the trustees of the BPL were led to believe they have nothing to fear from you. We hope you act to prove them wrong.
Attorney General Schneiderman
The fact that you have jurisdiction hangs in our minds. We remember (and we brought to this to the attention of your office) how the trustees of the NYPL involved in selling the Donnell and the launch of the impossible to justify Central Library Plan, were assured of good a relationship with your office when the subject of your increased authority concerning conflict of interests on their behalf came up.
Similarly, the trustees of the BPL were told about the BPL’s hosting of your Brooklyn Community Forum event as reassuringly good relations with your office were described.
There is also the concern of how BerlinRosen is working with the BPL to push through the Brooklyn Heights Library sale. Acknowledging that BerlinRosen is, overall, problematically tied up in far too much of our city’s politics together with the deals that go along with them, we nonetheless hope that your own relationship with that firm would not be an issue in terms of doing the right thing here.
Your office is doing much good work, including some of the things you have done with respect to the fracking industry. You have a lead role amongst the state attorneys general conducting the fraud investigation about what oil companies, including Exxon, knew and intentionally concealed as they sought to mislead the public (as well as its own investors) about climate change and the need to limit the use of fossil fuels.
The fossil fuel industry’s creation of a false and manipulative narrative burying the truth is an example of another for private profit driven and selfish assault on what is, in essence, the public commons, that which we collectively own and should be entitled to collectively benefit from, the environment, the earth’s climate, our future safety, security and perhaps even our continued existence on this planet. Your work to investigate this stealing is important and should bring you deserved recognition.
At the same time, you also have a similar job that needs to be done with respect to some more home-grown problems right here in the backyard of the people who elected you: The real estate industry’s attacks on our public assets, libraries, hospitals, parks, schools.
One of the most important things Eliot Spitzer, one of your predecessors, did in this regard was the lawsuit he filed that saved Manhattan, Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital from a predatory real estate sale. In accordance with his responsibility to monitor charities, Spitzer challenged as “unacceptable” the MEET board’s decision-making process and overall behavior in the sale of that hospital invoking his power to seek removal of the board in court because their pursuit of a sale did not respect the duty of the board of directors, as a not-for-profit corporation, to use its entrusted charitable assets to keep first priorities in mind and further the organization's charitable mission. Now of course, in a similar situation we see that one of the federal “pay to play” investigation going on respecting the de Blasio administration concerns the sell-off of Long Island College Hospital to the real estate industry.
The ostensible reasons for selling, shrinking and sinking the Brooklyn Heights Library are false in multiple, easy to document ways. Just as the fossil fuel industry manipulated and lied to present a false and fraudulent narrative to the public concerning climate change, Love Brooklyn Libraries! presented to the Attorney General’s office documentation of how the Brooklyn Public Library was cooking its books concealing over $100 million in unspent capital funds while it was claiming that impoverishment was forcing it to sell the Brooklyn Heights Library.
After Attorney General Schneiderman refused to review these patterns of fraud and by the BPL (ostensibly for lack of jurisdiction), this was taken to the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York where the response from the attorney assigned was that this needed to be handled by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman because of the Attorney General Office’s jurisdiction over misconduct by New York State charities.
US Attorney Bharara and Capers
US Attorney Bahrara, we thank you for your investigation of the library sale. As previously communicated we stand ready to provide you with more information in addition to that which we have already furnished. We can also offer information to US Attorney Capers’ office additional to that which was previously furnished.
Public Advocate James
Your office has standing and resources to address the theft and waste of public assets that far surpass any individual citizen’s or even organizations thereof. We appreciate how you highlighted the issue of so protecting our public assets and specifically our libraries during your campaign for the office of Public Advocate, your acceptance speeches after the elections and in your inaugural address for that office. As we thank Comptroller Stringer for the December 9, 2015 letter he issued from his office we also thank you for the December 9, 2015 letter you similarly issued echoing his.
While you may not have the same powers to criminally prosecute as the US Attorneys and Attorney General, we note that this often gives you a freer hand to take initiative when required for the public’s protection. And, exceedingly pertinent to our writing, it is within the power of your office to ensure that information that should be public is made public. Lastly, we note that the revelations with respect to investigations markedly change the situation since you last dealt with it in connection with the City Council.
Why We Write to You Collectively
We write to you collectively to avoid improper runarounds and/or gaps in authority and jurisdiction and we hope that you, collectively, will do all that is certainly in your power to ensure that the public does not lose this library, this extraordinarily valuable public asset. We implore you individually and collectively to act so that this does not happen because any public officials are shirking their responsibility or abusively neglectful of their duties to protect the public.
We are well aware that investigations are often long-term, going on behind the scenes and secret from the public for years so that sufficient evidence for the strongest possible, most airtight cases can be collected and so that trails leading to related misconduct can be pursued. We are also aware that there are tradeoffs that must be evaluated as to whether the continued keeping of such investigations secret is worth the additional and irremediable pending harm that will befall the public.
We hope that you are already well advanced into your investigation of these matters. In any event, we urge you to act immediately. The loss of such a valuable irreplaceable library is too much of a loss to ask the public to sustain as public officials stand by.
We request that your actions also include communications that make clear that anyone complicit in any harm that may hereafter befall the library risks personal financial jeopardy by virtue of future pursuit of restitution.
The announced sale of Donnell is already nearly nine-year-old history and still nothing has been done about it. Just as the public remembers and is appalled by that episode, the destruction of the Brooklyn Heights Library will not pass from public memory and all will be remembered in terms of what public officials did or did not do that was within their power to prevent it.
Thank you for your consideration and thank you for acting immediately to prevent this grotesque harm to the public.
Michael D. D. White
Carolyn E. McIntyre Co-founders of
Citizens Defending Libraries
CC: James Sheehan, Esq. 120 Broadway
Alaina Gilligo, Municipal Building
Ibrahim Khan, 1 Centre Street,
Barbara Sherman, 1 Centre Street,
Governor Andrew Cuomo
New York State Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli