Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

NYPL Trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman, With His $1 Billion Salary, Claims Success `NOT Because We’re Smarter’, But Because `We Just See Things Others Can’t See,’ Have Data Others Don’t, And Get Advance Warnings

Its sort of a creepy thought: Seeing what “others can’t see.”  We wondered who else might be unnerved by some of the things in a new Barron’s interview. . .

Stephen A. Schwarzman is the head of the Blackstone Group (and the highest paid CEO in the country- the first $1 billion CEO).  Many are familiar with the fact that the 42nd Street Central Reference Library has awkwardly been renamed after Schwarzman, who, is not exactly about spreading the wealth or being magnanimous to the common man or general population.  He wants the poor to pay more taxes, while he pays, along with others in the hedge fund industry, an exceptionally low rate in taxes due to the carried-interest tax loophole, from which he personally benefits.  He has opposed that loophole's repeal saying repeal would be akin to the German invasion of Poland. And Mr. Schwarzman has also been leading the Trump administration’s initiative to privatize America’s public infrastructure. Mr. Schwarzman is a trustee of the NYPL.  What?  Of course!  What could be more natural than to name a major research library after such a man?

The library was renamed after this living individual (something of a no-no) after Schwarzman transferred $100 million to the NYPL based on his understanding that the consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan was to proceed.  That plan involved selling off major central destination libraries in Manhattan.

Barron’s just released an interview with Mr. Schwarzman.  No doubt the interview is intended to be flattering, as there is little doubt that the parties mutually understood it was to follow the prescriptions of “access reporting.”  See: Barron's:  ‘We Can See Things Other People Can’t See.’ Stephen Schwarzman Talks Blackstone’s Edge, Succession Plans — but Not Trump, by Jack Hough, December 28, 2018

So it was probably meant to be both Mr. Schwarzman’s feint at humility plus, hint, hint, a lure to future Blackstone investors (communicating that he had an inside track) when Schwarzman explained that Blackstone successes (and implicitly his own record-setting $1 billion salary), was “not because we’re smarter,” but because the Schwarzman Blackstone crew “can see things that other people can’t see” and have extra data that others don’t.  Specifically, in response to how Blackstone “finds” what Schwarzman says are “new areas that have good returns for the risk” that appeal to “Blackstone’s DNA”:
That enables us to see trends and patterns and avoid risk and lean into return. We can see things that other people can’t see—not because we’re smarter, but because we have more data.

We have businesses that generate a lot of intellectual capital. That enables us to see trends and patterns and avoid risk and lean into return. We can see things that other people can’t see—not because we’re smarter, but because we have more data.

For example, in real estate, we own major asset classes all over the world. We can tell more or less without consulting anybody what’s happening economically in different locations. We also have private equity in those countries. . . .  We can get advance warnings of when something looks interesting or when to avoid it.
Recently, from research done by Jeffrey Wollock, we learned that, as the Inwood Library is now yet one more NYPL library being sold as part and parcel of the rezoning of Inwood, a Blackstone portfolio company, purchased a major interest in a portfolio of 12 multi-family buildings in the vicinity, both in Inwood and adjoining Washington Heights, an ownership that will likely profit from these City/NYPL plans.  Mr. Schwarzman is a trustee of the NYPL.

Blackstone was also investing in buildings around neighboring Bryant Park when it was expected that the NYPL would sell the Mid-Manhattan library there as a result of the transfer of funds from Mr. Schwarzman that got the 42nd Street Library named after him.  The fact that Blackstone was actually buying up that real estate makes less comically playful the remarks of NYPL president Tony Marx back then on February 1, 2013.   Talking about the Central Library Plan before the Association For a Better New York Mr. Marx said, “little hint,” it would be a good idea to buy up such real estate in the area (and “I think I can say that as long as I don’t actually do it.”)

It is worth mentioning that, just before the NYPL sold the Donnell Library, its first major sale of a library to benefit the real estate industry, before that sale was even publicly known about, there were rumors that Schwarzman’s Blackstone would be involved in the sale, but it is impossible to say exactly what actually then happened behind the scenes.

When Schwarzman crows about the information and things he and Blackstone get to see that others don’t, is it disconcerting that ownership of one of the buildings bordering Bryant Park (1095 6th Ave #25B, New York, NY 10036, aka 3 Bryant Park) made Mr. Schwarzman landlord for Booz Allen Hamilton?. .  Or is it disconcerting that Booz Allen Hamilton is known more than anything for its surveillance work for government (the U.S. contracts out the huge preponderance of its surveillance to private firms, and mainly to just a few firms with Booz Allen Hamilton regarded as the “colossus” of those few), and that Booz has been one of the prime players in the library sell-offs?  That’s because the NYPL trustees hired Booz for that role not long after librarians had proved troublesome for the government in terms of PATRIOT Act surveillance efforts, and shortly after the NYPL’s board (according to its minutes) was advised that it was expected that the federal government was going to “require” the NYPL “to reengineer their Internet service facilities to enhance law enforcement’s ability to monitor and intercept communications.” 

Of course you don’t have to have even a single conspiratorial thought in your head to simply worry about the implication of how, with monopolies and mass consolidations everywhere, the world is increasingly becoming just a few conglomerate firms.  When everything boils down to just a few huge companies, it gets to be just too easy; then it seems like the dots always connect.

And maybe that’s why it should also be disconcerting to read in this article about Blackstone’s acquisition of a controlling interest in a major information company, the main competitor to Blooomberg.  (It will rename the unit “Refinitiv.”)  Schwarzman told the interviewer it was an example of what Blackstone could do, by exercising its special advantage, that “few firms in the world can do”:
    . .  our $20 billion Thomson Reuters (TRI) deal [for a majority stake in its financial-data unit]. We did that in private conversations. There was no auction. We got a chance to study the business. That’s a real advantage.
In theory, acquisition of the “financial-data unit” of Thomson Reuters might not affect the Reuters news `unit.`  The international Reuters news service had its origins in the mid 1800s with the distribution of radical pamphlets distributed by Paul Reuter in connection with revolutions in Europe.  As of 2002, it was reported to be one of the three major new agencies, along with the Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse that provided most of the world news.  Basically, all the major news outlets still subscribe to it.   

In 2008, Reuters was acquired by Thomson (with Reuters staff worrying about continuation of the editorial independence of which it had, historically been fiercely proud, plus already worrying about other overall acquisitions such as this in the future).  In 2009, Noticing New York wrote about the strange competition between Thomson and Bloomberg LLP that, among other things, catapulted the formerly not very significant wealth of Michael Bloomberg, turning him into the richest New Yorker while in office as New York City Mayor.   There is a lot to think about here.

Reportedly, according to an article behind a Bloomberg paywall, in 2016 Reuters went through a restructuring eliminating 2,000 jobs around the world as it sold “its intellectual property and science operation for $3.55 billion to private equity firms” (Onex Corporation, “Onex” and Baring Private Equity Asia, “Baring Asia”) in cash.

Meanwhile, as an enduring part of the NYPL Central Library Plan that Schwarzman helped to push forward with a $100 million transfer of cash, the NYPL is getting rid of the city’s largest science museum.  It will be turned into a comic book museum.  Interesting, what is happening to information in this society.

NYPL officials excused the loss of the science library and its collections saying that people who want science information can get it from the internet.  At the same time, the FCC, is being extremely non-transparent and surreptitious as it tries to eliminate net neutrality, the free and open access to resources on the web.

The Barron’s interview briefly touched upon the possibility that Schwarzman’s Blackstone would convert to a “C-Corp” allowing it to be included in index funds.  Blackstone already files SEC filing as a “public,” company.  Maybe someone else who understands this better wants to comment, but it seems a C-Corp status would mean more filings making public information available.

Traveling with Trump to Saudi Arabia in 2016, Schwarzman brought back $20 billion for Blackstone as seed money for the selling off and privatizing of American public assets.  Asked, in the Barron's interview, about the recently much more obvious moral problems of working with those in power in that government, Schwarzman said:
We deal with the government, and we’ve been doing that for decades. Our approach is to maintain consistent relationships.
Maintaining consistent relationships. . .  Interesting fellow Schwarzman.  Do we all find all this creepy?

BTW:  Libraries are about sharing information so that everybody can see it, not just a few among the lucky elite.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Noticing New York’s Seasonal Reflection Thinks About Libraries, Amazon, A Departed Library Defender and Has Pictures of The Luxury Tower Replacing What Was Brooklyn’s Second Biggest Library.

Partially complete luxury tower overlooking the Unitarian church where you can hear a sermon about Amazon and from the DUMBO waterfront. 
In recent years, the threat to New York City libraries has regularly been part of Noticing New York’s annual season reflection.  This year it’s true again, including a mention of the passing of library defender Justine Swartz, plus there are pictures of the 2/3rds complete luxury tower replacing what was Brooklyn’s second biggest library, the Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination federal depository library that served downtown.  . .  The luxury building, insisting its presence will be felt, will certainly be tall enough to be seen from all sorts of vantages in the neighborhood and those adjacent.

And there are thoughts about (shivering book lovers!) Amazon’s heavily subsidized expansion into Queens, which Noticing New York covered in a recent article.

The article (with links to past year’s season reflections as well) is here:

This Year’s Annual Seasonal Reflection: It Rhymes (But Not With "Reason" or "Season")

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Article In The Villager On What’s Happening To NYC Libraries Featuring Citizens Defending Libraries- Some Contradictions Are Picture Perfect

It is so valuable and so rare when the press runs stories about the selling off of NYC libraries, valuable even when NYPL officials are allowed their talking points– That’s why we are thankful that The Villager just ran an article on the subject, which featured Citizens Defending Libraries and what we are saying to a fair extent.  See:  A new chapter for public libraries has watchdog growling, by Gabe Herman, December 27, 2018.

The whole article is a recommended read, but in response to a few of those NYPL officials talking points, we thought a picture or two is worth a few thousand words.

The article quotes Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White a number of times.  This is one: 
White, of C.D.L., specifically criticized the Schwarzman plans as “commercializing the library.” He said a focus is being put on the gift shop and adding a wine bar, while fewer books are now available there, citing off-site storage in New Jersey.
In rebuttal:
    . . .  A library spokesperson said there were never plans for a wine bar or any alcohol to be served at Schwarzman. . .
However here is a visual the NYPL furnished in connection with those plans (and maybe the close-up of what's intended for the Map Room helps just a bit to make a point).   . .  At the NYPL trustees meeting where this was discussed, one trustee expressed hopes the plans could include an expansion to include outdoor cafe space as well, which would mean taking over some of the city land in Bryant Park.

What is in those wine-shaped bottles behind the bar?
And presumably, the NYPL official who says that there are "never plans for a wine bar or any alcohol to be served" at 42nd Street central research library is just not thinking in terms of how the NYPL advertises (see picture below) its space there for ritzy events like society weddings with consequent risk that the library will be closed early to researchers to accommodate them.   

NYPL "Beverage Program" as it advertises its space for events: Just Apple Juice?  
From the NYPL's brochure for using its space for events-- Do we know the etiquette well enough to know that this si showing both red and white wine glasses at the ready standing side by side?
An astute library defender also reminded us about the discussion that has gone on about the current work creating new cafe space atop the Mid-Manhattan Library (the main circulating library across the street), about which the NYPL administration official explaining things said he didn't: “want it to appear that space was being created for dinner events . .   .  but when that space is not being used we have the opportunity to rent it out.” Arguably, this is part of the same plan that includes the Schwarzman building.  Without argument, it is part of the same ethos.

Views of the space being created atop the Mid-Manhattan circulating library, which it is suggested could look down on the front steps of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library that the NYPL promotes for use as wedding space.
 Similarly, the NYPL officials wanted to downplay the loss of books:
The N.Y.P.L. denied any books are missing from Schwarzman, countering that many were moved to a second sublevel beneath Bryant Park, for climate control and a more efficient organizational system.
How Many Books Are Disappearing From New York City Libraries?
Here, to go along with the visuals above, is everything you need to know about the disappearance of books in New York City’s public libraries.  See: How Many Books Are Disappearing From New York City Libraries?

The article notes that “White sees a trend of selling off branches,” and:
“We think they’re picking off libraries one by one,” he said, referring to the S.I.B.L., the Donnell branch in Midtown in 2008 and another strongly opposed plan in Inwood, plus others in Brooklyn, which is under a separate system from the N.Y.P.L.
“Others in Brooklyn,” includes what was the second biggest library in Brooklyn the Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination federal depository library, that was the easiest significant library for the many New Yorkers and Brooklynites to get to.

Reading The Villager article you’ll see that NYPL Chief Operating Officer Iris Weinshall, Senator Schumer’s wife, tries to counter the notion that we are losing library resources, but one of the recent articles you may want to read as background on this is an overview from Jeffrey Wollock of Inwood that brings to light that even the daughter of the Schumers has gotten involved in these library sales, being involved in initiating the Inwood Library sale with her mother.  See:  The Voice of an Inwood Library Defender- Jeffrey Wollock Provides an Overview: Libraries as Real Estate -How NYC's Libraries are Being Stolen.

As for the way that books are disappearing from the libraries as these schemes dismantle them, we like this Michael Michael D. D. White quote from the article:
“The public still prefers physical books,” he said, “the use of the libraries is up, and we’re selling them off and changing the nature of the libraries.”
There is a lot more to learn about this on our web pages.

Friday, December 21, 2018

In This Winter Solstice Season, Long Shadows Being Cast By The Not-Yet-Complete Luxury Tower Replacing Brooklyn Central Destination Library

Today the winter solstice will arrive at 5:23 PM Eastern Standard Time.  Marking the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, it brings with it the dark days and long shadows of winter.

On the edge of Cadman Plaza Park, the luxury condo tower replacing the Business, Career and Education Federal Depository Library in Downtown Brooklyn is about two-thirds complete.  Even in its semi-complete state, it is casting long shadows into Cadman Plaza Park.
On Wednesday, December 19th, at 12:40 PM those shadows already stretched long, blanketing much of the west side of the park with a considerable swath of shadow.  You can see below a photo of this shadowy dimness (above- no photoshopping) looking back towards the building under construction.  In the opposite direction, in a picture taken from exactly the same spot (below- no photoshopping), you can see where at 12:40 PM the sun was still hitting the park, the branching bare tree limbs configuring pleasing patterns on the glowing ground.   Next year the view from that point will be different: The sun won’t hit the ground there; you will see more shadow instead.
As the sun progressed during the early afternoon, the shadows on west side of Cadman Plaza Park would progress to the east to fall over the eastern side of the park.

Shadows and where they fall will, of course, change all year.  In the summer, come solar noon, those shadows will trace a course that is less northern and more directly east as they edge out from the luxury tower.  Nevertheless, in all, the luxury tower that replaced a valuable library will bring a lot more shadow to this public park in the second half of the day every days all year round.

A Beloved Library Defender Is Gone, But Not Forgotten: Justine Swartz, Our Ambrosia

In the seat of honor, Justine Swartz, Ambrosia- On each side, co-founders of Citizens Defending Libraries, Carolyn McIntyre and Michael D. D. White
Most of the time we speak here of the threat of losing beloved libraries.  Sometimes we have to report losses of those libraries.  This time we have to report our loss of one of most beloved and spirited library defenders, Justine Swartz, who often sallied forth into this world by her adopted nom-de-frolic of “Ambrosia.”  The myths of ancient Greece tell us that ambrosia is the food and drink, the nectar of, the Gods, conferring long life extending into immortality on those who consume it.

We lost Justine the past fall that just ended with the solstice; she died on October, 12th.  We didn’t hear immediately: One of our library defending friends, Amy, reached out to let us know.  Justine was one of the longest residents in 30 Clinton Street across the street from the Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights, the central destination library she fought so hard to protect.  She died a few blocks south in the Cobble Hill Nursing Home after a protracted fight with cancer.  That fight didn’t stop Justine from, according to the report of one of her friends, spending her final summer “at Brighton Beach doing what she had always done (i.e., holding mermaid court among her admirers, flirting with the lifeguards, bobbing up and down in the surf, and telling people where they could place their beach towels....similar to her role at the St. Francis Pool)” until the beach "closed" for the winter.

Justine was with us as part of the Brooklyn Heights library fight pretty much from the very beginning.  If you go to our Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube channel and click to find the most popular, most viewed video, you will find Justine testifying.  With well over six thousand views, it leaves all our other videos in the statistical dust.  . . .  Justine was testifying against the sale of libraries at the New York State Assembly hearing on the subject held  June 27, 2013.  Starting out by making some more conventional points about why libraries shouldn’t be sold and also making clear why evicting Brooklyn’s second biggest library from easily accessible Downtown Brooklyn was worthy of an American with Disabilities Act compliant, Ambrosia then segued, breaking all the rules to launch into a poem of her own composition and she ended, literally, with a juggling act.  See:

Justine Swartz Poem to NY Legislators: Libraries Rock! Renovate, Don't Terminate (click through for best viewing directly in YouTube).
. . .  And somehow we thought the focus of the hearing should have been on the testimony of a Pulitzer-Prize winner like Edmund Morris!

No only was Justine a juggler par excellence, she also loved to belly dance: Check out her Facebook Page for videos.

Justine was the one who, living above to look down on the Brooklyn Heights Library was able to see, report and bring to the attention of the news media that the Hudson Companies developer who was dismantling the library to level and replace it with a luxury condo tower, was leaving unsecured construction debris to blow off the roof and rain down on the sidewalk like shrapnel. Justine made sure this news was broadcast on TV and got in the Brooklyn Eagle.

Justine got the news of the blowing, raining debris on News 12
We’ve lost track, and someone will someday have to calculate, how many letters to the editor Justine had published in the local papers.  We are sure her passionate outcries hold the record.

Justine sent us this picture of the Brooklyn Heights Library being demolished saying:  “The Library looks naked and vulnerable without its Windows.”
Justine/Ambrosia: “The Library looks naked and vulnerable without its Windows.”
Justine was on of the first to tell us when they began to start cutting down the many trees that surrounded the library.  She sent us these two pictures with the sad comment, "before and after."
"Before and after."
In happier warrior mode earlier this picture was posted by Justine on her Facebook page and often shared:
Here is a picture of Justine when she was enjoying a library defender lunch with Carolyn:
It was not too long ago that we last saw Justine in a good mood on Montague Street.  Her last communication with his was her wish to us on September 21st to have a Happy Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish New Year.

A few days after learning that Justine had died, our screen saver popped up a picture of Justine looking merry, a sort of visit from beyond.  When we tracked that photo down in our collection we discovered that it was taken of us December 25th, 2015, Christmas Day, another time when we ran into Ambrosia on Montague Street. . . 

That is the picture you see right at the top of this post-

We wish that Justine were with us this season and into yet another new year.  We will remember her fondly.

There will be a memorial service for Justine in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood on January 2, 2019:
Memorial for Justine Swartz, our Ambrosia
Wednesday, January 2, 2019, 1:30 PM
Multi-Purpose Room on the 2nd Fl
St. Charles Jubilee Senior Center
55 Pierrepont St., Brooklyn, New York 11201
Here are a few more photos of Justine we can share:

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Narcissists: There’s a New Category Called “The Communal Narcissist”— Why Is That Something Library Defenders Would Want To Know More About?

Putting together a few thoughts about narcissism and those who sell libraries-  Clockwise from top, an article about "communal narcissists", work of Wendy Behary and her list of traits, Anand Giridharadas and his book about wealthy philanthropists, Dr. Ramani Durvasula's video about four kinds of narcissists.
Why would those defending the libraries want to know about what is supposed to be a particular kind of narcissist?  We will get to that. 

The subject of narcissism in the classic psychology sense can be fascinating, particularly when we now seem to be living in a culture that encourages traits that might easily be defined as problematic manifestations of the syndrome, even rewarding them by with positions of authority or high office.

This isn’t necessarily our area of expertise, and we note that, when you look into it, there are various psychologists who have gotten involved in making lists of the different kinds of narcissists into which they believe narcissists overall can be classified.  Those lists and categories frequently don’t seem to match, not in number or in category.  And then there are lists offering “sub-types”!

Reading about the traits assigned to some of these supposed categories it seems that many of those “differentiating” traits are actually all possessed together by many of the most pronounced narcissists. .  . Are they vain about their appearance and physical traits or vain about their brain– or vain about both?  Are they “High-Functioning, Exhibitionist, or Grandiose Narcissists” openly bragging and seeking attention, or are they sometimes surreptitiously operating with more or less the goals?  How much categorization makes sense?

Wendy Behary has a book out, “Disarming the Narcissist,” that offers a general list of traits associated with narcissists.  At a conference in Washington where she presented this year she said that the original title she liked for the book, rejected by her publisher or editor was, “Narcissist: A Nightmare in Shining Armor.”
Behry says narcissists typically display ten of the following thirteen traits:
1.   Self-absorbed – Acts like everything is all about him or her
2.    Entitled – Makes the rules; breaks the rules
3.    Demeaning – Puts you down, bullyish
4.    Demanding – of whatever he or she wants
5.    Distrustful  – Suspicious of your motives when you’re being nice to him or her
6.    Perfectionistic – Rigidly high standards – his or her way or no way
7.    Snobbish – Believes he or she is superior to you and others; gets bored easily
8.    Approval seeking – Craves constant praise and recognition
9.    Unempathic- Uninterested in understanding your inner experience or unable to do so
10.    Unremorseful – Cannot offer a genuine apology
11.    Compulsive – Gets overly consumed with details and minutiae
12.    Addictive – Cannot let go of bad habits; uses them to self soothe
13.    Emotionally detached – Steers clear of feeling
In other words, they spend a lot of time trying to make themselves look good and seeking praise and recognition, but they are dangerous to others because they lack empathy and feelings, feel entitled and break rules while putting themselves first.  Unable to apologize, they tend to be adept at, and focused on, shifting blame, deflecting truth to find other reasons for problems they are a source of, rather than acknowledge any failures in themselves.

We came across what is suggested to be a particular classification of narcissist that intrigued us as library defenders and got us thinking.  We watched a video of Dr. Ramani Durvasula: The 4 Types of Narcissism You Need To Know.  Per the title of that video, Dr. Durvasula offers a four “primary type” category division that includes the “malignant narcissist” (mean, almost psychopathic, likely to lie, cheat or steal, perfect material to make great criminals) the “covert narcissist” (seemingly put upon, really victimy, but still grandiose and passive aggressive).
The category that really caught our attention was the hard-to-spot“communal narcissist.”  The communal narcissist is always out at galas and benefits and wants attention for writing checks to charities.  They want to be seen as caring for those they are serving, while actually having a lack of empathy for those people they are “rescuing” and feel superior to.  They seek lots of “validation for all their good works” and are not about doing good quietly and unseen.

We found an article on this classification in Psychology Today: The Communal Narcissist: Another Wolf Wearing a Sheep Outfit, by Peg Streep, May 24, 2016.  The title of the article sounds a lot like Behary’s abandoned “Narcissist: A Nightmare in Shining Armor.”

The article is based on categories Dr. Craig Malkin used in his book “Rethinking Narcissism,” and says that the concept of the communal narcissist category “is a relative newcomer to the party; the designation is only a bit over a decade old.”

Malkin is quoted as explaining:
[T]hey regard themselves as especially nurturing, understanding, and empathic. They proudly announce how much they give to charity or how little they spend on themselves. . . . They believe themselves better than the rest of humanity, but cherish their status as givers, not takers.
But with grandiose notions that they are serving the world they lack “the ability to empathize” and are, according to the article “involved in community only as a validation of self.”   And finally, the article makes the point that they do not have the ability to self-recognize their traits.

If you are ahead of us on this then you already know why we were thinking about all of this.  We are thinking about it because it got us wondering about the library trustees and high level library administration officials who are consistently so self-congratulatory to themselves, and so self-assured about all the good things that they have done to transmogrify the libraries into something different.

There are also the related questions raised recently by Anand Giridharadas in his new book “Winners Take All- The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” and by others as to whether wealthy people dabbling in charities to "benefit" the rest of us want to help us or just help perpetuate a world and systems where they are always going to be on top, no matter if that’s problematic (i.e. asking them “to fix a system they are complicit in breaking”).  Plus, what the wealthy do is so frequently ensnared in the penchant for so-called “win-win solutions” where the wealthy who take the helm steering things are always looking for what’s in it (the “win”) for them.

Finally there is an overarching precept that Joseph Stiglitz, writing about Mr. Giridharadas’ book, offered by providing a quote from political scientist, Chiara Cordelli: “This right to speak for others, is simply illegitimate when exercised by a powerful citizen.”

Mr. Giridharadas doesn’t specifically mention the esoteric subject of the “communal narcissist” in his book, but in his book he does in fact, cite Ms. Cordelli’s words specifically in terms of good old-fashioned narcissism, saying that self-proclaimed “leaders” naming “themselves as the solvers of the most intractable social problems represents a worrisome way of erasing their role in causing them,” and the strangeness of placing “people with the most to lose from social reform” is:
marred by its own “narcissism.”  “It seems to me that these days everyone wants to change the world by themselves,” she said. “It’s about them; it’s about what they do.”  
Is that just a description of garden variety “narcissism,” or Ms. Cordelli zeroing in intuitively on the recently defined classification of “communal narcissist,” adopted by professional psychologists and counselors? 

(BTW: Another book covering similar territory with respect to the new “philanthropy” of the wealthy that we have also written about, David Callahan’s “The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age” neglects the subject of such narcissism entirely.)

Communal narcissists?  Maybe knowing that they exist and being alert for their traits will enable them to be spotted amongst the higher up library administrators and boards of library trustees that are congratulating themselves while they sell off and shrink, and commercialize with private partnerships, New York public libraries while eliminating books and eliminating librarians and their influence.  Such individuals are surely there, harbored in their ranks.   There is also their close kin, the inappropriately self-designated, self-prioritizing “problem solvers” for the rest of us identified by Giridharadas whose “charity” can do more harm than good.  They can no doubt be found in those ranks too.

The interesting thing, however, is that, whether or not particular individuals manifest these psychological traits personally, when the forces aligning to dismantle libraries aggregate individuals endowing them with authority to pursue the goal of dismantling libraries, those groups will inevitably engage in tactics and behaviors most suitable to pursue and validate such dismantling.  Engaging in those tactics and behaviors they are likely to collectively display the traits of communal narcissism: They will focus in a self-congratulatory, unquestioning way on how wonderful what they are doing is; they will be disengaged from and unfeeling and unemphatic about the people they are supposed to be serving while displaying delusional beliefs that they not only do care, but are superior in this regard; they will seek congratulation and good press for what they are doing; they will see themselves as “givers,” not “takers”

– Like other narcissists they will lack remorse for the harm they cause, steering clear of feelings, snobbishly keeping to themselves; they are apt to be bullyish or demeaning to others; and in an entitled fashion they will arrogantly want to make the rules and be in charge while breaking whatever rules they want, and they will avoid truth and accountability (wanting to be in charge of “fixing” what “they are complicit in breaking”).  . .

 .  And they will make a point of looking good, perfectly coifed and decked out when they go to their galas and benefits.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

What’s Your Idea of a $1,500 Ice Cream Sundae?- You Can Get One In The Luxury Hotel That Replaced The Donnell Library, Along With $500 Cocktails

What should a $1,500 ice cream sundae should look like?
What’s your idea of what a $1,500 ice cream sundae should look like?

The latest word on extravagance will hit close to home for library lovers– It’s that they are now serving $1,500 ice cream sundaes at the luxury Baccarat Hotel that replaced the Manhattan’s central destination Donnell Library.  Remember, the $500 cocktails?  Too rich for your taste?  Don’t worry, there is a cheaper cocktail you can get for $450.

Noticing New York covers all the details here (and you can see what a $1,500 ice cream sundae actually looks like):
Where Manhattan’s Beloved Central Destination Donnell Library Once Stood: $500 Cocktails, $1,500 Ice Cream Sundaes, And Dining While Sitting On Coyote Pelts
It’s a follow-up to Noticing New York’s November 2015 article about the sale of Donnell and the luxury condos and establishments catering to the wealthy that replaced it:

Priorities To Be Replicated?: Private Luxury Now Abounding Where Former Donnell Library Stood, A "Replacement" Library Is Nowhere In Sight.  (The article was written on the 8th anniversary of the library’s sale.)
Want to see what a $1,500 ice cream sundae looks like?

The Voice of an Inwood Library Defender- Jeffrey Wollock Provides an Overview: Libraries as Real Estate -How NYC's Libraries are Being Stolen

An overview of the sale of the Inwood Library for redevelopment, linked to the radical and destructive rezoning of upper-Manhattan's Inwood, linked to the plan to sell NYC libraries in service to the goals of the real estate industry generally- Jeffrey Wollock provides perspective. 
We present here a very good article and exceedingly valuable piece of research by Jeffrey Wollock a library defender who is part of Save Inwood Library fighting the sale of the Inwood Library for redevelopment as a multi-use real estate development.  This sacrifice of the library is linked to and being done in close conjunction with a radical rezoning of the Inwood neighborhood that will shred the fabric of the  community and assuredly result in waves of displacement that remove current residents and businesses.

Some of the overall story from this Save Inwood Library defender will be familiar to other library defenders following the battles against New York City library sales and shrinkages that benefit real estate developers, not the public (and some of the citations in Mr. Wollock's writing point back to Citizens Defending Libraries work and posts), but the new perspective is a fresh overview that will generate new insights.  Thorough research by Mr. Wollock has also come up with a lot that is new, including some eye-poppers.
•    Who Is selling NYC Libraries?- Adding New Names To The Rogues Gallery: Mr. Wollock with his research and his sharp eye for relationships has come up with names linked to the selling off of and commodification of NYC’s public libraries that we have not previously posted anything about at Citizens Defending Libraries.

•    Another Blackstone Mark Respecting NYC Library Sales: Many are familiar with the fact that the 42nd Street Central Reference Library has awkwardly been renamed after Stephen A. Schwarzman, the head of the Blackstone Group (and the highest paid CEO in the country- the first $1 billion CEO).  Schwarzman, along with others in the hedge fund industry, pays an exceptionally low rate in taxes due to the carried-interest tax loophole, from which he personally benefits, and he opposed that loophole's repeal saying repeal would be akin to the German invasion of Poland. When asked whether his taxes should be raised given the state of the economy, Mr. Schwarzman said, to the contrary, the poor are the ones needing to pay more in taxes.  And Mr. Schwarzman has been leading the Trump administration’s initiative to privatize America’s public infrastructure. Mr. Schwarzman is a trustee of the NYPL.  What?  Of course!  What could be more natural. . .  The library was renamed after this living individual (something of a no-no) after Schwarzman transferred $100 million to the NYPL based on his understanding that a consolidating shrinkage of the Central Library Plan was to proceed.  That plan involved selling off major central destination libraries in Manhattan.– 

Without Mr. Wollock’s research published here it would likely have gone unnoticed that, as the Inwood Library is now one more NYPL library being sold as part and parcel of the rezoning of Inwood, a Blackstone Portfolio Company, purchased a major interest in a portfolio of 12 multi-family buildings in the vicinity, both in Inwood and adjoining Washington Heights, an ownership that will likely profit from these City/NYPL plans.  Blackstone was also investing in buildings around neighboring Bryant Park when it was expected that the NYPL would sell the Mid-Manhattan library there as a result of the transfer of funds from Mr. Schwarzman that got the 42nd Street Library named after him.  The fact that Blackstone was actually buying up that real estate makes less comically playful the remarks of NYPL president Tony Marx back then on February 1, 2013.   Talking about the Central Library Plan Before the Association For a Better New York Mr. Marx said, “little hint,” it would be a good idea to buy up such real estate in the area (and “I think I can say that as long as I don’t actually do it.”)  Lastly, it is worth mentioning that, just before the NYPL sold the Donnell Library, its first major sale of a library to benefit the real estate industry, before that sale was even publicly known about, there were rumors that Schwarzman’s Blackstone would be involved in the sale, but it is impossible to say exactly what actually then happened behind the scenes.

•    The Political Family That Sells Libraries Together. . . Does What Together?: Mr. Wollock observed, when nobody else had, that Jessica Schumer, daughter of Iris Weinshall and Senator Chuck Schumer was Chief of Staff (September 2015 to May 2016) at Robin Hood, “Wall Street's favorite charity,” the very same foundation, that, in addition to involvement in charter school initiatives, was spearheading the sale of the Inwood Library.  That means that when, on May 11, 2016, Chief Operating Officer Ms. Weinshall told the NYPL trustees as at a trustees meeting “that a major foundation” had “approached” the NYPL about “an interesting initiative” to sell the library, she was talking about a major foundation that her own daughter, Jessica, was contemporaneously heading up as Chief of Staff. But Ms. Weinshall did not say that in the meeting when telling the trustees.  So, if you take into account the connection that Stephen A. Schwarzman and his Blackstone Group make major contributions to Senator Schumer (so that Schumer in 2014 was the #1 Blackstone-supported politician in New York State and the #4 Blackstone supported politician nationwide) that looks like three members of the political Schumer family who have connections with sale of the NYC libraries.

•    Documentation That Reasons Given For Selling Libraries Are Concocted:  Mr. Wollock documents the Center for an Urban Future was providing part of the push for the sale of NYC libraries saying it was “because of poor layout” and other supposed deficiencies.  But Mr. Wollock shows how that is not the case with the Inwood library despite anything the NYPL might now say about it; that in 2016 the library won an award by popular vote as the best community library in Manhattan; and that late in 2010, NYPL president Tony Marx, who grew up in Inwood knowing the library well, visited and said he was "blown away" by the recent $4.3 million extensive renovations that had also enlarged the library (by 4,000 square feet).  Nevertheless, in early 2017 Iris Weinshall told the press the library was being sold because it was "in poor condition" and there was benefit to "reconfiguring it." Adding insult to injury, developers bidding to now buy and redevelop the library site were told plainly and clearly that they would not get extra credit for offering a better layout, shape or configuration for the replacement library.  There is therefore every likelihood that the replacement library could be a worse library after the developer who is given the site leaves the public with the dregs when that developer has creamed off for itself the space the developer likes best (like with the Brooklyn Heights Business Career and Education Library).

•    Keeping The Public In Desperation:   Going deep into the world of the privatizers to read their own literature Mr. Wollock comes up with a privatization industry saying that provides unfortunate insight into their way of thinking, their goals and tactics: "desperate government is our best customer."
Last on our checklist, before moving on to Mr. Wollock's own words, we should mention, and we know that this is important to Mr, Wollock, that Save Inwood Library and Inwood Legal Action are raising funds to for a lawsuit opposing the library sale.   More about that here:
Urgent Appeal from Save Inwood Library to All Our Library Defenders- Inwood Legal Action Needs to Raise $$$ To File Lawsuit

* * * *
Libraries as Real Estate -How NYC's Libraries are Being Stolen
By Jeffrey Wollock
Save Inwood Library

Abstract: Public libraries have become fair game for misappropriation by real estate interests and their incestuous relationships with city governance. This brief shines a light on the `players’ in this game and reveals the history of complicity that enables and sponsors the de facto theft of these public amenities-the NYC Public Libraries.

The Players

From 2005 through 2018 and ongoing, collaborations have involved:
•    Banks (Deutsche Bank)
•    Nonprofit and for-profit community development financial institutions (Local Initiatives Support Group/LISC, Enterprise Community Partners, Enterprise Community Investment)
•    Community development corporations (Fifth Avenue Committee, a nonprofit developer)
•    Library Trustee Boards NYPL (the three city systems)
•    Philanthropic foundations (Revson, Robin Hood)
•    Think tanks (Center for an Urban Future/CUF, Furman Center (NYU)
•    Management and real-estate consultancies (McKinsey, Booz Hamilton, HR&A)
•    Present and former bureaucrats
•    Politicians and city agencies under two administrations (Bloomberg and de Blasio)
•    Hedge-fund managers
•    Developers and architects.
Together these players have formulated and implemented plans to monetize public library branches throughout the city as real-estate assets for the benefit of developers, under the rationale of responding to shortages in both affordable housing and library funding. Thus far, five projects have been set in motion, one of which was canceled. Two major libraries have been demolished (Donnell, Brooklyn Heights), another project has been approved but not yet implemented (Sunset Park), a fourth was approved in August 2018 (Inwood), and many more are contemplated.

How the 'plan' was implemented-2006

The story begins in 2005-2006 when Michelle de la Uz, Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, after talks with the Brooklyn Public Library, obtained financing for the Fifth Ave Committee from Deutsche Bank, Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), and Enterprise Community Investment for initial library real estate inventory studies.  (De la Uz would be appointed to the City Planning Commission by Public Advocate de Blasio in late 2012). Enterprise contributed by commissioning a feasibility study from the Furman Center at NYU.  (Vicki Been, Furman's co-director of Real Estate & Urban Policy, would become one of the two creators of de Blasio's market-oriented housing plan, the other being Carl Weisbrod of HR&A Consultants, Chair of de Blasio's City Planning Commission 2014-2016.) As early as November 2006, a staff lobbyist at the Brooklyn Public Library [Steven Schechter] characterized the plan to redesign libraries as housing sites as "a model that can be replicated in Brooklyn and across the city, and really provide resources to the library that might otherwise not be available, and meet the Mayor's and the city's goal of building additional affordable housing."

Enter: Mega Real Estate-2007

In 2007, the Brooklyn Public Library inaugurated its "Strategic Real Estate Plan," in coordination with the developer Forest City Ratner, owner of sites adjacent to two of the libraries chosen for "redesign." A key member of the strategic real-estate task force was Janet Offensend, whose husband, leveraged-buyout specialist David Offensend, Chief Operating Officer of the NYPL (2004-14), developed the Central Library Plan to monetize NYPL's real-estate holdings, including the sale of the Donnell branch to Orient Express in November, 2007. Donnell would become the model for BPL's Brooklyn Heights sale (2015).  In January 2008, Julie Sandorf, with a background in low-income housing, became President of the Revson Foundation and immediately commissioned a study, "Living Libraries," from the Pratt Center for Community Development."*  Gary Hattem of Deutsche Bank and Brad Lander, then director of the Pratt Center (2004-09) link back to de la Uz and the Fifth Avenue Committee - Hattem as Chair of the Pratt Center Advisory Committee and Lander as de la Uz's former boss at FAC until 2004, when she replaced him as director. As Member for Brooklyn's 39th City Council district (2009-), Lander would later promote the Brooklyn Heights library sale.
(* “Nurturing New Potential in Old Libraries.”)
In March 2008, financier and NYPL trustee Stephen A. Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group donated $100 million to the NYPL, effectively gaining control of policy while the library was launching its "Central Library Plan," a redesign of the main research library building (canceled in 2014 in the face of international protest) to phase it out as a research center, remove its books to remote storage, and promote new retail and circulating library features.*
(* See Scott Sherman, Patience and Fortitude (Melville House, 2015))
The plot thickens-2009

Despite unavailability of funding in 2009-11 due to the 2008 financial crash, planning for monetizing the real estate value of the libraries continued. At the October 11, 2011 meeting of the BPL trustees, President Linda Johnson emphasized the intention of locking the next mayor into the real estate plans, which were then secretly in progress.

Promotion, design studies, and implementation of these plans have been actively under way since 2012.  The Center for an Urban Future, a think-tank for urban development favored by Democrats, has played a major role since about that time, issuing major studies and sponsoring forums funded by Revson. The CUF board of directors includes:
1.    Gifford Miller, former speaker of the City Council (2002-05), real estate investor and developer. A member of the CUF board by 2009, Miller became chair in 2013. His primary campaign for mayor in 2005, though unsuccessful, was a catalyst for the whole library/housing scheme for New York.

2.    John Alschuler, president and chairman of HR&A (Hamilton, Rabinowitz & Alschuler) Advisors, along with Miller, was one of the earliest members of the Friends of the High Line, which they made into a development magnet and gentrification machine. The originators of the idea, David and Hammond, "Enlisting the help of real estate developer John Alschuler … presented the city with a rosy financial picture. Hammond recalled that "[Alschuler] figured out how to frame the argument . . .  parks increase the value of nearby real estate, and thus the addition of a new park on the High Line could create an economic benefit for New York City (David and Hammond 2011: p.45)." (Incidentally, Jim Capalino, the influential lobbyist, was a member of the Friends of the High Line founders board until 2011. Capalino, later instrumental in the Rivington House scandal that caused the resignation of Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris (an HR&A alumnus), left the founders board in 2011 but remains close to Miller and Alschuler.*  Dan Doctoroff, Deputy Mayor under Bloomberg's first two terms (2001-2008), was another early booster of the High Line, which physically connects with his own project, Hudson Yards, the largest real estate development in the world.  Susan Lerner of Common Cause said of FHL's relationship with City Council speakers Gifford Miller and Christine Quinn, "It seems to reinforce the idea that there's too much of a pay-to-play atmosphere at City Hall."
(*Capalino also pushed the Inwood rezoning.)
3.    Margaret Anadu of Goldman Sachs, who replaced Alicia Glen as managing director of Goldman' s Urban Investment Group when Glen joined the de Blasio administration as deputy mayor for housing and economic development. James Patchett, who was appointed head of EDC to succeed Maria Torres Springer, is another Goldman Sachs alumnus. He worked as Alicia's Glen's right-hand man at Goldman Sachs Investment Group and then was her chief of staff in the deputy mayor' office until Feb. 2017.

4.    Lisa Gomez, Chief Operating Officer of L+M Development Partners and wife of John Banks III, president of REBNY and a NYPL trustee. Until February 2018, Gomez was also board chair of the New York Society for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), the major lobbying group for the industry. - Ron Moelis's L+M has been described as Alicia Glen's favorite developer, a relationship that began shortly after she became head of Urban Investment at Goldman in 2002.

5.    Kyle Kimball of Con Edison, former NY Economic Development Corporation (EDC) president under Bloomberg, before that was a vice-president at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. As a Brooklyn Public Library trustee under Bloomberg, Kimball helped move their "Strategic Real Estate Plan" (the BPL analogue of NYPL's Central Library Plan) forward in the years leading up through 2011.

6.    David Lebenstein, executive managing director of Cushman and Wakefield, "a leading global real estate services firm that helps clients transform the way people work, shop and live," with 300 offices in 70+ countries. He is married to Ellen Baer, a protégée of Carl Weisbrod. Baer, a partner at HR&A for 12 years, is now president & CEO of the Hudson Square Connection Business Improvement District and co-chair of the NYC BID Managers Association, which represents the city's 72 Business Improvement Districts - another mechanism for privatization.
It is hard to ignore the prominence of HR&A on the board of CUF, the promoter of "Re-Envisioning New York's Branch Libraries." HR&A, one of the most influential advisory firms under the de Blasio administration, is a real estate consultancy that specializes in brokering public-private partnerships in which "private capital is used to carry out public policy."*  In the Public Interest (ITPI), in its  Weekly Privatization Report for 7-10-2017, notes:
As big banks and their advisers step up their efforts to gobble up income-generating public assets and services, RBC Capital Markets and HR&A Advisors (a real estate deals advisory firm) have produced a new how-to report. Fiscal pressure on government is the key. "As governments struggle to find more money," The Bond Buyer reports, "discussion has been growing about ways in which municipalities can leverage specific public assets to create revenue streams that will allow them to reduce costs while delivering better services. The report focused on using the expertise of the private sector in ways that benefit the public, and provided local governments a best practices guide on ways to do that." As the saying goes in the privatization industry, "desperate government is our best customer." [Report: "Unlocking Value from Public Assets" ; see also ITPI's resources on outsourcing  and PFAW's report on "Predatory Privatization" , ]
(*Joanne Witty & Henrik Krogius, Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Dying Waterfront Transformed, Oxford UP, 2016, p.63.)
Toronto-area native Jamie Torres-Springer, as project director (2005-06) worked on the public/private partnership Brooklyn Bridge Park with Alschuler and David Offensend, becoming an HR&A partner in 2007. On Feb. 7, 2012, at a forum at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, Springer spoke on private funding of public parks; the other presenter, Siobhan Reardon, director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, spoke on problems of library funding. (Linda Johnson, President of BPL since July 2010, had been CEO of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, 2006-09.) Springer, who became a senior principal at HR&A in 2015, was also co-chair of the board of the Fifth Avenue Committee from at least 2012 to the end of 2016; in the latter year he represented HR&A on a panel on "Public Assets": "Who Gets to Decide What They Are and Whether They Matter?"  His wife since 2008, Maria Torres Springer, was COO of the Friends of the High Line (2012-13) and Mayor de Blasio's pick to head the Small Business Services (2014-15); she headed the NYC Economic Development Corporation from July 2015 and since Feb. 2017 has led the Dept. of Housing Preservation & Development.

Collaborations or...complicity? -2013

January 2013 saw the publication of the Center for an Urban Future's study "Branches of Opportunity."  Recommendations in this CUF document (p.43) parallel the HR&A approach to parks and other public amenities: during this time of tight budgets, new funding sources must be sought; library leaders must begin to change public perceptions of how libraries are funded, i.e. more emphasis must be placed on private funding. "In at least a few cases," libraries should consider selling "older, underperforming branches that are valuable as real estate" to raise revenue for new construction (p.43). The study (ibid.) quotes Vicki Been of the Furman Center: "New York City libraries could be sitting on as much as 4.5 million square feet of transferable air rights." Been believes (ibid.) that current rules for air-rights transfers are too restrictive and should be far more expansive.*  As de Blasio's head of HPD (2014-2017), controlling the fate of city-owned housing, Been would cheerlead the library/housing projects.
(*Transferable air rights played a major role in the developments around the High Line. See V. Been & J. Infranca, Transferable Development Rights Programs POST-ZONING? Brooklyn Law R.78:2 (2013), 435-465.)
Designing the template for Library 'bait and switch' -2014

In January 2014, Bill De Blasio was inaugurated mayor. He chose Alicia Glen, head of Goldman Sachs's Urban Investment Group, as Deputy Mayor for Housing.  Sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch to major de Blasio donor David Kramer of Hudson Development, to be replaced by a 36-story luxury condo tower with a much smaller library beneath it, was approved by the City Council in late 2015,  despite the fact, later revealed, that Hudson bid lower than two others. E-mails obtained by the NY Post under Freedom of Information laws and made public in October 2018 showed that Kramer had at least two communications with Alicia Glen before the project was awarded to his company. The tone of the e-mails suggested a sweetheart deal. Contacts between bidders and city officials during bidding competitions are against state law.

On September 15, 2014, Center for an Urban Future published a study, "Re-Envisioning New York's Branch Libraries," which identified ten libraries (pp.51-52) as "branches across the city that … would benefit from a new building and are located on lots whose size and zoning would allow construction of apartment units in addition to a new branch." (According to a footnote, this idea was first investigated in the aforementioned Revson/Pratt Center Study of 2008.) "Because of poor layout," [they] struggle to meet the needs of their communities." They were "built between 1952 and 1981" and lack "obvious architectural or historical value. A number are Lindsay boxes, stretched desperately for space." Inwood is one of the ten. However, Inwood does not have poor layout, is neither a Lindsay Box*  nor "stretched desperately for space," nor is it "struggling to meet the needs of its community" - in 2016 it won an award by popular vote as the best community library in Manhattan.
(* Small, cheaply built libraries dating from the time of Mayor John Lindsay (1966 1973), described by CUF's David Giles as " shoebox-style branches that are about 7,500 square feet. See Lisa L. Colangelo, "Libraries Boxed In," NY Daily News, September 16, 2014 Tuesday, Queens News, p.31. See also Re-Envisioning New York's Branch Libraries, pp. 6-7.)
The Inwood library is actually a larger than the average NYC branch building; it was designed by a major architect, William G. Tachau, and is historically important as the first library built in New York City after World War 2, designed to new standards of library design and postwar city planning.*  It was extensively renovated in 1998-2001 at a cost of $4.3 million, almost 90% from city funds. Renovations included ADA compliance, new computers, new lighting, new air conditioning, a full-service elevator, a new central staircase from the main floor to the children's floor, and a new story hour room for children. Floor space was enlarged by 4,000 square feet, including a high-ceilinged sunlit expansion of the children's area. A new roof was added after leaks were found in the old one.**  It is, however, a prime real estate location, especially when included in the Inwood rezoning plan, with valuable air rights. 
(*New York City Planning Commission, with Alfred M. Githens & Ralph Munn. Program for the Public Libraries of New York City. New York, 1945; See also Lawrence M. Orton, (NYC Planning Commissioner). New Yorks Postwar Public Libraries. [Text of a talk broadcast over WNYC radio, October 24, 1944]. Library Journal 70 (March 15, 1945), 240-242.
** Norman Holdman, Inwood Branch Will Open Soon, Manhattan Times, Nov.9, 2000, p.6; NYPLs Adopt-a-Branch Renovates Six Libraries, Library Hotline, Volume 30 (July 16, 2001), p.2)
In December 2014, at a symposium on library design connected with "Re-Envisioning New York's Branch Libraries," architect James Lima stated (third video):
… it's interesting to look at a site like Rego Park and say, in its larger context, if we were thinking about the potential for these locations that are within the control of the library system, if you thought about it like a real-estate developer would think about it … there's a very low-intensity use adjacent to this site, a one-story commercial use, that could potentially be assembled,  and again, if the community felt strongly about enhancing the significance and the potential for this site, one might think about  zoning modification and an assemblage that will allow for a significantly greater number of residential units, in this case 100 additional residential units, and 34,000 square feet of retail.*
(* Architectural League of NY and Center for an Urban Future, Re-Envisioning Branch Libraries Design Showcase and Policy Symposium" at the Japan Society. “… six interdisciplinary design teams came together to present their answers to these questions …”) 
In another associated event in January 2015, a presentation of library design studies, one participant told the audience:
And again, as the final presentation has shown, and we will see again hopefully, at the end a library is real estate.  It's an integral ingredient in urban development.  I've studied libraries for years, and many design projects around the country have found it's often a nice placating gesture in a real estate development. You want to do commercial development?: Put a library in it and you win a new public that you might not have had on your team initially.  So in short a library has many fronts and functions.
These statements correspond almost exactly to the Inwood Library plan that would emerge two years later.

Application for the site of a new TEP (The Equity Project) charter school at 153 Sherman Avenue, Inwood, was filed in December 2014.  Hedge-funder philanthropist Steven A. Cohen and his wife donated $3 million for the school in 2015 through the Steven A. & Alexandra Cohen Foundation.  Plans were unveiled in August 2016.  Evidence suggests that the Cohens may have also played a hidden role in the financing of the Inwood Library project. The dates coordinate very neatly, especially considering that the Inwood project, with financial support from Robin Hood, was first announced to the trustees in May 2016 (albeit obliquely, without naming the library or the foundation). Steven Cohen was chair of the Emeritus Board of the Robin Hood Foundation, after a decade (2004-2014) on the board, and one of Robin Hood's largest contributors.

At a meeting of the NYPL Board of Trustees on May 11, 2016, Chief Operating Officer Iris Weinshall told the trustees of "an interesting initiative that has come our way: a major foundation here in the city of New York has approached the library about working with us on one of our libraries in upper Manhattan to create affordable housing on the site … the plus for the library is that this foundation along with HPD, which is a city agency, is prepared to provide the library with the total funding for reconstruction of the library on the site. So this would present a great opportunity for us … there will be more discussion and Tony [NYPL president Tony Marx] and I are involved with the foundation in discussion."

Not until seven months later was it revealed that the 'lucky' library was Inwood, and that the "major foundation" was Robin Hood, "Wall Street's favorite charity,"  a so-called "venture philanthropy" run by hedge-fund managers who continually lobby the state to lower funds for district schools and raise them for charters, which they promote and invest in.  Robin Hood has so much "pull" with the mayor that, as a major contributor to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, it was given its own tribute page in the Fund's annual report for 2016. Chief of Staff at Robin Hood at this time was Jessica Schumer, daughter of Iris Weinshall and Senator Schumer.

Reynold Levy, president of the Robin Hood Foundation, was at that time also chairman of the board at Revson, whose secretary Cheryl Effron had been appointed to the City Planning Commission in 2014. (Another Revson board member, Sharon Greenberger, a former Chief of Staff to Daniel Doctoroff, head of EDC under Bloomberg, had been the leader of the BPL "Strategic Real Estate" task force; in the late 1990s she had been VP for Economic Development with Carl Weisbrod's Alliance for Downtown NY and Chief of Staff of Chuck Schumer's Group of 35.)

In early March 2017, Weinshall stated that "The library system hired a consultant to assess all its branches last year and found Inwood touched all the "sweet spots… The community was demanding more affordable housing, there were air rights above our library and the library was in poor condition."

But something is not right here - the library was not in poor condition. NYPL president Tony Marx, who grew up in Inwood, knew the library well. Visiting after many years in late 2010, Marx said he was "blown away" by the renovations.  Less than 4 years later, CUF would recommend Inwood as an excellent candidate for demolition. Two years after that an unknown consultant hired by the NYPL declares it in "poor condition."

The role of Capalino + Company and their client Taconic Investment Partners in "jump-starting' the Inwood rezoning became clear by the spring of 2017.  At the end of that year, Peter Febo, as CEO of Beam Living, a "Blackstone Portfolio Company," purchased a 70-80% interest in a portfolio of 12 multi-family buildings, 4 or 5 in Inwood, the rest in adjoining areas of Washington Heights.  Until a few months before this deal, Febo had been Chief Operating Officer of Taconic. Blackstone, the company run by NYPL's dominant trustee Schwarzman, stands to make big profits from the rezoning rise in property values and and the influx of a wealthier population that the rezoning will bring about. Although no direct link can or need be shown, connections of this kind bring into clearer relief how powerful real estate firms influence NYPL policy.

Done deal?… fait accompli?-2017

Public announcement of the Inwood "library redesign" plan did not come until January 5, 2017.  The Inwood community, having had no premonition whatsoever, was stunned. Besides, many alternative city-owned alternative sites in the area are available for housing. Adding insult to injury, the city administration's promotion team had no plan to provide any temporary library service or space for this neighborhood, a community without any bookstores or school librarians. In May, the NYC EDC folded the the library project into a massive rezoning plan for all of Inwood north of Dyckman Street. This rezoning was approved by the City Council on August 8, 2018.

Three public "workshops" on the library project were held at the end of January 2017. At one, reference was made to a major donation for this project by someone "who grew up in Washington Heights." At the time, the participants were at a loss to guess the donor's identity, but Alexandra Cohen (maiden name: Garcia), who did indeed grow up in Washington Heights, and who gives a lot of money to Robin Hood, perfectly fits the profile.


The model is similar to "venture capitalism": buy a company, run it into the ground by downsizing and refusing to invest in it, then sell it off. The main difference is that instead of a company, the entity in question is a public amenity that is supposed to be supported by public funds. Thus the proponents benefit first by not paying their share of taxes to support the service, second by receiving subsidies and tax abatements for projects that are supposedly for the "public good"; third by manipulating the zoning and transferable air rights related to the property for the profit of themselves and their cronies. They call this "unlocking the value of public assets," but a more fitting description is private appropriation of public property.

The aggressive "self-dealing" of real-estate entities and their aiders and abettors,  designing public policy for their own benefit and channeling it through politicians under their control through pay-to-play campaign contributions and  non-transparent slush funds, is a blatant feature throughout the history of this project. The tiny "fig leaf" of so-called affordable housing as a public benefit cannot hide the fact that this is a tool for real-estate development and private enrichment, by which the public loses far more than it gains.

The actors responsible are linked by incestuous connections and "revolving door" relationships with the city; there is neither public accountability nor oversight. Rather, plans are kept secret for years until officially announced, giving the developers a tremendous head-start advantage on the public. Then, in a Potemkin Village replica of democracy, the public is subjected to a complex, drawn-out, pseudo-participatory public process on the "Decide-Announce-Defend" model, an exhausting, demoralizing, pro-forma exercise which appears to give them a part in the decision-making process, but does not.

The NYPL's Circulation Division (i.e. the branches) has depended almost entirely on the city for its land, buildings, operating funds and capital funds since its inception in 1902, including the Carnegie donations for library buildings, which were given to the city. These support the NYPL's mission, which is to provide free library services to the public. Library services, however broadly defined, do not include the provision of affordable housing or the facilitation of zoning changes. Indeed, these may even conflict with legitimate funding goals: For example, the city provided all the money for the construction of the Inwood library (1950-52) and nearly 90% of the funds for its extensive renovation less than 20 years ago, a long-term investment that this plan would annihilate. No matter how eager and willing the NYPL trustees may be to facilitate the city housing/zoning plan, no such acts are envisioned under the special services for which it is funded.

The NYPL would argue that they are building a new library in the process. Yes - they are building an unneeded new library by a process that CUF and associated organizations conceived as an innovative tool for rezoning and real estate development; NYPL's  role in helping the mayor attain his housing goals is a fig-leaf, and patently political. Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone group, the world's largest real estate investor, and John Banks III, president of REBNY, are both trustees of the NYPL.

It will also be argued that unlike the 36-story luxury condo tower now being built one the site of the demolished Brooklyn Heights Library, the Inwood site will have 175 units of affordable housing. But based on transfer of the library's air rights, the Inwood deal makes possible the R8A zoning that allows the construction of 14-story market rate condos on a string of lots extending from the library to Dyckman street, a frontage four  times that of the library/housing lot. So the two situations are not so different after all. The fact is that the Brooklyn Heights sale also promises 114 affordable units in Cobble Hill, two miles away. But is the loss of two great public libraries the price we have to pay for 114 units or even 175 units of affordable housing? Especially when in the case of Cobble Hill, it is at another site - the Inwood housing could just as well be on another site too. But in Inwood too, luxury housing is the tail wagging the dog of affordable housing. It will also mean the end of Fine Fare, one of Inwood's few supermarkets (and C-Town on Broadway near 207th will surely suffer the same fate) - the beginning of a "food desert" for Inwood's less affluent residents.

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Jeffrey Wollock, historian, musician, editor and founding member of Save Inwood Library, is a resident of Inwood, Manhattan;. Co-author of the Encyclopedia of the American Indian in the Twentieth Century, he worked with indigenous communities as Research Director of the Solidarity Foundation. In 1989 he founded the NY James Bay Defense Coalition to coordinate support for northern Canadian Inuit and Cree communities' successful fight against a massive hydroelectric megaproject. He holds a D.Phil. in history from Oxford University.