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, January 14, 2019

Our Defending Libraries Testimony On Councilman Steve Levin's Proposal To Change NYC Law To Pour More Money Into Mayor de Blasio's Legal Defense Fund For Fending Off Pay-To-Play Investigations

Steve Levin at the hearing on his proposal to help de Blasio pay his legal bills for being investigated for selling off public assets like the Brooklyn Heights Library
Below is our Citizens Defending Libraries Testimony on Councilman Steve Levin's proposal to change New York City's law so as to pour more money into Mayor de Blasio's legal defense fund used by him to fending off pay-to-play investigations.

If you read our testimony it will be quickly be evident what is in issue.  And why is Councilman Levin the one proposing this law change? He shouldn't be, and that's something that will be quickly evident too.

If you would like to refer to some of the minimal reporting on this as background, you can look at:
•        New York Post: Opinion- editorial-  Don’t give de Blasio a sleazy way to pay his legal bills, by Post Editorial Board, January 8, 2019.

•        Politico: City Council introducing legislation that would help de Blasio with unpaid lawyers' bills, by Sally Goldenberg, January 7, 2019.

•        Politico: De Blasio approves his own contract for legal fees after city comptroller rejects it, by Sally Goldenberg, November 20, 2018.
Video of the largely unheralded January 14, 2019 City Council hearing taking oral testimony is also available
Our Citizens Defending Libraries Testimony:
* * * *

January 14, 2019

Committee on Governmental Operations
Fernando Cabrera, Chair
Committee on Governmental Operations
c/o Elizabeth Adams eadams@council.nyc.gov

Re: Testimony respecting Councilman Steve Levin’s proposed change in law respecting a legal trust fund to facilitate Mayor de Blasio’s payment of legal bills related to investigation of his conduct.

Dear City Council Members and Committee on Governmental Operations:

This letter states why Citizens Defending Libraries is opposed to the current move to change the law to allow much larger scale donations for the purpose of enabling Mayor Bill de Blasio to pay his legal fees for fending off and defeating investigations of his conduct while in the office of mayor, including what appears to be pay-to-play conduct involving public assets that need to be properly protected by our public officials in office.   

Citizens Defending Libraries has called for Mr. De Blasio’s conduct in selling off the Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library to be investigated.  See our letter attached and available on-line:
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
We do not currently feel that investigation has ever been properly attended to.

We feel that passage of this change in the law to deal retroactively with this situation of concern still outstanding signals that impunity for Mr. De Blasio is acceptable, rather than the appropriate further investigation that would be appropriate and should be conducted.

As for what is signaled to be “acceptable,” we must note that while we and others think that there should be investigation as to whether criminal and/or civil laws have been broken, it is widely viewed that Mr. De Blasio’s conduct was at least improper to the degree that it skirted the law thus raising both the question of whether the law has actually been broken, and, if it hasn’t, whether the law needs to be changed.  Changes to the law that retroactively coddle this conduct sends the wrong message about what we expect from our public officials.

Next, and very significantly, we have a problem with the fact the change in this law (this change in the administrative code of the City of New York) is sponsored for adoption by another public official, Councilman Steve Levin, who worked with Mr. de Blasio to hand off the valuable downtown Brooklyn Heights Library to a developer for a pittance. (This recently enlarged and completely upgraded central destination library was Brooklyn’s second biggest library.)  Department of Education funds were also raided to push through the deal. Quite clearly, if the investigation we have called for were to be conducted Councilman Levin would be central to its scrutiny.  It is therefore a public embarrassment that Mr. Levin is the one who is proposing this change in the law at this time.

Lastly, the law as it currently stands serves a good purpose: It allows the public to deliver a verdict.  Contributions can indeed currently be made to pay fees to defend Mr. de Blasio’s conduct, it is just that they must be limited to $50.00 per person.  The reason a change is being requested in this law is because, without that change, there are too few New Yorkers with whom Mr. de Blasio’s conduct would find favor to pay these bills.  Mr. de Blasio and his administration officials represent that he is selling off valuable libraries to give the public a better deal.  But that is not actually believed by enough of the eight million-plus New Yorkers so that the minimal number will endorse the mayor’s conduct by paying his bills.  More typically, we regard such conduct on Mr. de Blasio’s part as generating public losses that hurt the average citizen.

Changing this law, allows Mr. De Blasio to turn to another, quite different, class of citizen for his verdict.  It’s a more well-healed, less democratic elite able to pay $5,000 without flinching, and they are the same class of citizen, who are more likely to be involved in schemes to sell off our libraries, turning them into real estate deals like the deals we have asked be adequately investigated.           

Accordingly, we oppose this change in the law that blesses past behavior of the mayor, which we think should be investigated rather than blessed.


Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries

* * * *

Here is more testimony submitted by Marilyn Berkon another of our activists who has long been active in our fight to defend our libraries against sale and shrinkage, the removal of books and elimination of librarians.

* * * *

Subject: Steve Levin's proposal allowing legal defense fund for public officials

Submitted on January 11, 2019 for Public Hearing scheduled January 14th, 2019 at City Hall, 10 AM

To Whom It May Concern:

Mayor de Blasio  has requested that a bill be passed allowing a defense fund to aid public officials with their legal expenses.  The names of contributors would be recorded with amounts given, so that the process would have the appearance, at least, of propriety.  But how easy it is to disguise actual names and amounts and motives for contribution!  Passing such a bill would give permission for even more corruption and would create a new, even longer list of victims.  And corrupt officials would not be deterred by the fear of personal expense in a lawsuit.  Moreover, we would be back to square one when de Blasio was under scrutiny for questionable campaign donations to him from people with business pending before the city.  Or for donations to his so-called non-profit funds, which were actually from lobbyists in disguise.  That was Campaign for One NY.  People contributing to such a fund are looking for favors in return for their donations.  Printing their names and amounts does not hinder them since they escape with a shrug, saying that they were favored simply because their project was deemed the best.  And the politicians who benefit from these contributors concur with the same explanation.

Naturally, de Blasio would request such a bill, and naturally his good friend Steve Levin would promote it.  De Blasio may have had charges of corruption dismissed against him, but thousands of people were astonished when word came through, only days after the firing of Preet Bharara by Trump, that de Blasio was exonerated of all wrongdoing!  Preet Bharara's investigation was meant to continue for a long time until all investigations were complete.  That never happened.  The prosecutors admit that although they could not indict him, it was clear that he had engaged in corrupt practices.  And I recently learned that the taxpayers, who were actually his victims, ended up paying for his legal troubles involving Campaign for One NY.  Now he is looking to pay off his remaining $300,000 debt to a private law firm.  He knows he can't get the taxpayers to do it for him again!

One example where de Blasio escaped investigation altogether regards the Brooklyn Heights Library.  Bharara had a full report of the corruption, but was fired before the investigation of the pay-for-play campaign contributions to de Blasio from the developer who tore down the Brooklyn Heights Library to replace it with a luxury condo.  What we were promised was a replacement library less than half the original size, crushed beneath the condo, half below ground, and the ugliness of construction noise and toxins, traffic tie ups, shadows over our park from a condo that no one wanted, except the people who would benefit financially from the deal.  There was hard evidence of pay-for-play with pictures, names and dates of the developer's fund raiser, and hard print evidence of other campaign donation amounts from the developer, all occurring illegally during the time his application to build was still pending.  The so-called affordable housing connected to the condo will be built two miles away in another neighborhood.

That is only one example of de Blasio's corruption throughout the city, never properly investigated.  One could cite many examples that stir up anger and bitterness against this mayor who responds by dismissing the accusations as unimportant, or nonsensical.  We remain his victims in this city.  He won the re-election on only 24% of voters, people who dutifully came out on that raw, rainy, windy day, but had no choice other than de Blasio.  No one knew who was running against him because his excellent opponent Sal Albanese was kept off the second debate on some absurd technicality.  Bo Dietl was allowed to debate him, a man that no one took seriously.  Even de Blasio's re-election created suspicion.

Now de Blasio wants a handout, and his friend Levin is providing it with bill #1325.  Levin betrayed 98% of his constituents, a percentage he himself offered in a video that revealed the fierce opposition to the condo plan.  Yet he gave us the clear impression at the final City Hall hearing that he would stand by his constituents.  We even made calls to his office to extend our praise and thanks for the way he questioned the developer there.  And in a radio interview one day before the vote, he said that he had no compromise in mind with the developer.

But clearly, he did not want to cross, or fall out of favor with de Blasio, who took the pay-for-play donations from the developer and gave permission for the library demolition and the luxury condo construction on the site.  So Levin made a last-minute backroom deal with the developer and stunned us all with his vote against us as we sat at City Hall waiting for him to save our library.  Nor did members of the council cross Levin since they feared retaliation, not getting whatever they might need for their district in the future. And, as for the STEM program he received in that deal--the chancellor, Carmen Farina, had already told him that the Department of Education absolutely did not want a STEM program, that the district already had more than enough, that he was depriving the Department of Education of funds that were much needed elsewhere for students throughout the city. So we see that even before the last-minute deal, he was already conferring with the developer about a compromise he was hiding from his constituents.  How can we possibly respect any bill Levin puts forward on behalf of de Blasio?  It is already tainted, and it would fail to be taint-free in the future. 

 Let de Blasio pay his own legal bills, and let all politicians who have to fight corruption charges pay their own bills.  De Blasio is a public official who escaped punishment, having slipped through many loopholes that were cleverly designed for him.  Our outrage is against him, not his accusers, since we are his victims.  Let public officials keep clean, and no one will be able to sully them.  If anyone tries and fails, that false accuser should be forced to pay the legal expenses incurred.

De Blasio was simply lucky that Trump fired Bharara.  He got off free because the ones aiding in Bharara's investigation perhaps could not manage all the bulk of evidence, or the heavy pressure coming from friends of de Blasio in corrupt government.  He got off free, but we remain his victims.  And he with his smug, self-important attitude, dismisses our complaints as unimportant.

Please don't set up a defense fund for him or any other public official.  It is sure to end in more corruption since the regulations applied will be no stronger than the people who oversee them. And they, too, will be easily corrupted.  Nor do the regulations, in themselves, protect against corruption.  The loopholes are huge, no different from the ones that have already eased de Blasio's path.  And it is not believable that anyone contributing to such a fund would not want a favor in return.  Levin wants the limit to be $5000!  Who would give that kind of money without a favor in mind?  Nor would anyone want to contribute even the $50.00 amount, considering that it is essentially a gift for corrupt politicians.  De Blasio has wreaked destruction here and cares nothing for our consternation. Let him pay his own legal fees..

I repeat, please do not support this bill proposed by Steve Levin regarding a legal defense fund for public officials.  It will only lead to more corruption in government, give unsavory politicians a free pass to act without regard to ethics and the law.  They will do what they do with impunity and will not have to think twice about any consequences they might have to suffer for it in an expensive law suit.  Nor will they ever have to worry about their victims and the price we have to pay.

I end by saying that there is good in everyone, in de Blasio, in Levin--but the good must not be an excuse to ignore the deeply harmful effects of corruption in our city.  That corruption will be made all the more possible, if the proposed bill is passed into law.

Thank you for your attention to this.

Respectfully submitted,
Marilyn Berkon 

Brooklyn, NY 11201       

No comments:

Post a Comment