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.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Pay-To-Play Library Sale Questions Loom Larger As New York Post Reports Uncovering Emails That Confirm “Probably Inappropriate” de Blasio Administration Communications With Favored Developer And Possible “Violation” Of Bid Process- Post Editorial Calls For Investigation

Deputy Mayor fro Development and de Blasio selling off libraries, our letter to prosecutors calling for investigation. .  just like the New York Post
Questions having been looming, pretty much from the get-go, about the probability of the de Blasio administration’s engagement in pay-to-play activity when it sold, for far below its actual value, Brooklyn’s second biggest library, the Business, Career and Education Federal Depository Brooklyn Heights Library in downtown Brooklyn.

As of last week those questions loom still larger and more starkly as the New York Post reported uncovering emails from 2014 (March & September) confirming that the favored developer who was awarded the library site for a fraction of its value to the public, David Kramer of the Hudson Companies, whose development team channeled money to the de Blasio campaign, was communicating with de Blasio’s Deputy Mayor for development, Alicia Glen, for her assistance before being given the contract.  Kramer thanked Glen for “being the expeditor” saying that “Ever since our call in August, it feels like momentum finally started happening” and that he was “quite pleased with the outcome (how’s that for understatement).”  Kramer had at least two conversations with Glen before being granted the property.  The Post says that such conversations were barred under state law.

Going back in time to put this in context, that August referred to in Kramer’s email to Glen was the same August that Noticing New York laid out the history of the BPL’s systematic marshaling up its library assets, including the Heights Library, for sale as real estate deals, benefitting developers, not the public.  The month before, in July, Noticing New York had written about Spaceworks as just one vehicle for turning New York City Libraries into real estate deals.  September 16th, Citizens Defending Libraries followed up with a press release about its follow-up with its Citizens Audit and Investigation of Brooklyn Public Library- FOIL Requests and held a rally in connection therewith outside the Brooklyn Public Library Trustees meeting as the trustees voted to give the city-owned library to Kramer. 

The Post article quoted “a source familiar with the procurement process” who called the contacts between Glen and Kramer “completely inappropriate, and depending on what happens, probably a violation of the procurement rules.”  The Post article also noted that it had previous reported that Hudson won the contract despite that fact that its bid “was not the highest bid.”  And it noted that “Hudson received $10 million in financing from the same Goldman Sachs division that Glen used to oversee.”

Two days after the Post article ran, it was followed up with by an editorial calling for an investigation again noting that Kramer’s bid was not the highest plus the troubling Alicia Glen-Goldman Sachs connection to Kramer’s financing and adding:
State law bars contacts between firms and officials during bidding competitions to prevent favoritism or even the appearance of it.
    * * *

Worse, the deal fits a pattern of de Blasio donors getting favorable treatment: Who can forget City Hall’s OK for a nursing home to be turned into condos, reaping the developer a $72 million windfall? Or the favors for fat cats and unions that gave handsomely to the mayor’s campaign and his Campaign for One New York slush fund?

Prosecutors have failed to find enough smoking-gun evidence to charge anyone at City Hall. Let’s hope they’re still trying.
Here are links to the article and editorial:
•    Condo developer’s chat with deputy mayor raises questions about bid process, by Yoav Gonen, October 9, 2018

•    Yet another case of de Blasio’s City Hall for sale, By Post Editorial Board, October 11, 2018
We are thankful for the Post article and editorial and for the freedom of information request effort through which the Post obtained this information (even if belatedly). . .  The BPL and de Blasio administration have stonewalled Citizens Defending Libraries' FOIL, never turning over information that would similarly be relevant to discovering more about the library sales. . .

We are thankful, but we have to point out that there is more of this story to be told, more dots to be connected.

The Post article could have made much more clear that what was being sold off was not the “site of the Brooklyn Heights library branch” the article mentions, or the “Brooklyn library site” the editorial mentions, but the actual, still standing library itself.  Furthermore, the Post is incorrect in referring to the site as merely the site of a “branch” library: It was the site of a huge central destination library, the Business, Career and Education Federal Depository Library.  Neither the article nor the editorial says that this was the second biggest library in Brooklyn.  We had nothing else close either in terms of size or its valuable location.

Yes, the Post does make clear that Kramer, the low bidder, paid less for the site than the city would have gotten if it had given the site to another developer bidding to take the site, thus making clear its implication that in return for campaign contributions the de Blasio administration was willing sell a city asset for less than its value. . .  It is probably not a surprise that the de Blasio administration in such an exchange would sell a city asset for less than its worth as indicated by the Post, but the only way to truly realize how much was squandered by the de Blasio administration selling this central destination library off to the low bidder is to realize the value that this still-standing library had to the public.

Developers bidding for the library “site” (not the library) were bidding only for the tear-down value of the property, to them that was less valuable than the value of a vacant lot.  But this central destination library had recently been greatly expanded and fully ungraded in 1993.  It was one of the most technologically advanced in the system with more computers and access internet access at exactly the time when library administration officials said this was what they needed much more of.   It was one of the most solidly built libraries in the system. The Post describes David Kramer as paying “$52 million” for the site, but after all is reckoned and the many expenses and losses of selling the library are subtracted out, it is likely the sale will perhaps net not much more than $20 million— We’ll one day learn more about this from future FOIL requests, we hope . .  

The Brooklyn Heights Central destination library would cost at least $120 million to replace.  But we are not getting back our Business, Career and Education Federal Depository library.  Its books are disappearing, so are the librarians.  It’s a huge public loss.

The Post editorial incorrectly says that the Brooklyn Public Library “owned the site” of the library.  It didn’t; the city did.  That’s an example of the bureaucratic fuzz behind which city and library officials are trying to hide and to baffle the public with.  (However, the BPL, as the library tenant in the property, could have easily fought the sale.)  But, because of quotes offered by David Kramer defending his contacts with Alicia Glen in the original Post article we can strip away the illusion that the Brooklyn Public Library board is somehow politically independent enough to represent the public interest rather than just taking orders from City Hall.  Kramer explained about his calling Glen about the library sale told the Post (emphasis supplied):
Eight months into the new administration, we kept on hearing that EDC and [Brooklyn Public Library] were awaiting direction from City Hall    
Carolee Fink appointed to BPL board
If the Post wanted an addition to its reporting to make more ominous the de Blasio threat to our libraries when contributing developers `lurk,' it could have gone on to report that this April  Carolee Fink, Alicia Glen’s Chief of Staff, was appointed to BPL board by Mayor Bill de Blasio.  Ms. Fink’s status as Glen’s Chief of Staff can be explained by her deep involvement in pushing through real estate development projects.

More about Ms. Glen who, as noted, came from Goldman Sachs to the city to do development. In December 2015 when BPL president Linda Johnson told the BPL board of trustees how the sale of that library sale went down, a shrink-and-sink deal replacing the central destination library with a luxury tower, Johnson told the BPL board of trustees that Ms. Glen had adopted the library sale and shrinkage deal as “her own” to “push it across the finish line.”  The secretive final negotiations at City Hall included raiding Department of Education funds for space in the luxury building to help the developer. 

Not mentioned by the Post is that Glen’s push “across the finish line” also involved a raid on Department of Education Funds to help push the deal through with the manipulative and cockeyed idea of writing a black check to the developer to put a “STEM” or “STEAM” facility in the building.
  
Moreover, the trustees were told that this sale was a “huge turning point for the library system” and “across the city in general” with Johnson `pioneering’ the future of libraries.  And previously Ms. Johnson had told the city council that the shrink-and-sink sale would be a model for all three of the city’s library systems.

The Post fits the de Blasio gift of the library to Kramer in the “pattern of de Blasio donors getting favorable treatment” referring to Kramer as “a donor and longtime pal of Mayor de Blasio.”  We would have loved the Post to use the images we obtained of a de Blasio fund-raising event Kramer’s development team held for him, that they bragged about.  Their bragging was posted online just weeks after de Blasio held a big campaign event with Citizens Defending Libraries telling people he opposed the library sales and that there were, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”

Kramer team de Blasio fund raiser picture taken down hastily by Marvel Architects as pay-to-play investigation heated up.
As the pay-to-play scandal escalated Marvel Architects, working for Kramer on the sale took down the images and their posted brags hoping no one would remember, but we have the images already, and they won’t go away.  See:
As Feeding Frenzy Elevates NY1 Covers De Blasio “Pay To Play” Violation: Taking Campaign Contributions From Kramer’s Hudson Companies While Handing Out Brooklyn Heights Library Deal- Marvel Architects Runs But Can’t Hide
The Post editorial ‘hoped’ that “prosecutors” were “still trying” to “find smoking-gun evidence to charge” people in City Hall.  We would have loved it if the Post had mentioned our open letter to those potential “prosecutors” requesting the exact same thing. See:
Open Letter to US Attorney Preet Bharara, NYS Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, et al: Use Your Staggering Powers as Law Enforcers & Public Guardians To Immediately Halt the Corrupt Sale & Shrinking of Brooklyn Heights Library
One of the addressees we beseeched in our letter was Letitia James, currently Public Advocate for the City of New York, who with her likely step up to New York State Attorney General given her Democratic primary victory will have a lot more power to pursue this. . . if only she will.  We hope the Post will put pressure on Attorney General James to do so.

In February 2015, when the scandal about the facts pointing to a pay-to-play sale of the library were already getting press, Citizens Defending Libraries implored the Brooklyn Heights Association at its annual meeting to withdraw support for the library sale and back investigation of the sale, but the BHA refused.  See:
Annual Meeting of Brooklyn Heights Association- The BHA President Patrick Killackey Insists That BHA Will Continue To Betray Community By Supporting The Brooklyn Heights Library Sale & Shrinkage Notwithstanding Recent Scandals
The Post story and editorial about these emails breaks just as Kramer is about to market the luxury condos in the tower replacing the library sold for such a small fraction of its actual value to the public. See:
As Condo Apartments Set Brooklyn Heights Sales Records (You Heard About Matt Damon’s $16.645 Million Penthouse?) Central Library Sold To Build (Now About To be Marketed) Luxury Condos Nets Mere Pittance
Quoted in the above post, the Brooklyn Heights Association speaking through its executive director Peter Bray reiterated all over again its continuing support for the sale of the library saying, “We’ve taken a very close look at this project from day one.” 

The sale of the library could never have been pushed through without the BHA’s support.

2 comments:

  1. Also not mentioned by the Post: that BPL gave Kramer permission to destroy the Library before paying for the property! Not until building was pulverized did he come up with payment for the property.

    ReplyDelete