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.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Citizens Defending Libraries Recommendations On Other Candidates: Vote For Liu or de Blasio (Depending), Tish James For Public Advocate, NO to Squadron, and . . . More

Citizens Defending Libraries has previously issued its Part One recommendation for the September 10th New York City Primary Election, NOT to vote for Christeine Quinn.  (See: Citizens Defending Libraries First Election Recommendation: NO to Christine Quinn, Who Favors Selling & Shrinking Libraries.)

Here are the Citizens Defending Libraries recommendations, together with guidance respecting the rest of the candidates. . . 

. . .  We are recommending voting for John Liu or Bill de Blasio (depending- important explication below) for the Democratic Nomination for Mayor and we recommend voting for Tish James for Public Advocate.  We strongly recommend against voting for Daniel Squadron for that position.  In addition, we have other recommendations on other candidates.  That includes City Council and Borough President races in addition to a recommendation to vote for George McDonald for the Republican nomination for Mayor.

Before getting into the specifics of our list of recommendations, together with the whys and wherefores, let's discuss which elected offices are most important in the fight to save the libraries from sell-offs, shrinkage and underfunding in connection with creating real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public.

The answer is that almost all the elections are very important respecting what happens to our libraries but that some are more important than others.

The Office of Mayor

Most important is who gets elected to the office of Mayor.  The Mayor has more influence than any other elected official over establishing the budget for libraries which even includes such things, as in the case of Mayor Bloomberg, the $151 million in taxpayer money that should not be spent on the NYPL’s Central Library Plan to sell and shrink libraries as part of a real estate boondoogle.   Many libraries are actually New York City property and as such mayoral agencies have a lot to say about how they are managed and how, or whether, they would potentially be disposed of.  The mayor also appoints a very large number of library trustees who make decisions and set policies pertaining to the size of libraries and the retention and preservation of these publicly-owned assets.

The Office of Public Advocate

The Public Advocate is a bully pulpit to speak truth to power with the ability to bring lawsuits, obtain information and issue reports to reset the agenda when city policies are out of whack, particularly when misguided policies, as in the cases of New York’s public libraries, reflect abuses of trust.  Very importantly when it comes to real estate abuses and boondoggles, the Public Advocate appoints one member of the City Planning Commission that reviews and votes on many of these plans.

Who we elect as Public Advocate also sends a message about the libraries and other matters to those becoming or seeking to become the mayor, whether that be the nominee of the Democrats, Republicans or any other party.

Citizens Defending Libraries members can have a strong influence on the Public Advocate election because many New Yorkers don’t educate themselves about this important office and neglect to vote for a candidate.  A fraction as many votes are cast for Public Advocate in the primaries as for Mayor.  This is unfortunate, and it should be noted that in this election, because there is no Republican running for Public Advocate, the outcome of the Democratic primary on September 10th will almost certainly determine who will be the Public Advocate for the city for the next four years.

For reasons set forth below, Citizens Defending Libraries is strongly recommending that people vote for Tish James for that office.

The Office of Comptroller

As the current New York City Comptroller John Liu has shown, the New York City Comptroller has a lot to say about the libraries and proper management of public assets.  There is the power of audit (as was seen in the case of the CityTime scandal when Liu was able to get back $600 million squandered by the Bloomberg Administration).   There is also the Comptroller’s required approval of city contracts.  Further, the Comptroller appoints ex-officio representatives to the library boards of trustees.   It is additionally important that the Comptroller, like the Public Advocate, has a bully pulpit for shining a spotlight on misdirections taken by city government.  What's more, with all the city’s financial data at the disposal of the Comptroller's office the Comptroller is in an excellent position to be able to spot what is amiss in the city.

Unfortunately, as will be discussed, there is no candidate Citizens Defending Libraries can strongly recommend for that office.  We fear that Comptroller Liu’s replacement will be a far weaker advocate for the libraries than Liu has been, which only makes the races for other offices all the more important.  It remains to be seen whether Citizens Defending Libraries will be supporting the Republican candidate in the coming general election.

Borough Presidents, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island and Particularly Manhattan and Brooklyn

The Borough Presidents can and often do fund libraries with discretionary funds.  In Brooklyn and Queens they appoint library trustees.  Borough presidents review and make recommendations respecting real estate decisions in their boroughs when public assets are being dealt with.  They can object when funds are being misspent in ways that affect their borough, as is the case with the misspending of the $150 million in taxpayer money to pay for the NYPL’s Central Library Plan with a total of more than $350 million being misdirected instead of benefitting the public by being spent in other ways.

City Council Seats

In the end, the City Council must negotiate and approve or reject the budget submitted by the Mayor, including all the spending for libraries which may include funds to maintain and keep libraries open, or as in the case of the NYPL’s Central Library Plan, funds set aside to sell and shrink them.  The City Council can hold hearings to look into things that shouldn’t be happening.  It can adopt legislation.  It could, for instance, legislate to outlaw the way in which library administration officials have been using contracts to silence criticism from librarians about the sell-off of libraries and the way in which libraries are now under siege.

That being said, here are the Citizens Defending Libraries recommendations and reasons for them:

Democratic Nomination For Mayor: Vote for John Liu or Bill de Blasio, depending
    •    Vote for Bill de Blasio if you think it is beneficial to avoid a run-off election, feeling that it is good, thereby, to have this bird in the hand.

    •    Vote for John Liu if:
    •        You believe that a run-off election, potentially with John Liu, would be a good thing and might potentially sharpen the debate about libraries (especially if Quinn survives to participate)
    •        You believe it is important that Liu was first and firmest in supporting the Citizens Defending Libraries fight against selling off libraries
    •        You want to send a message that the Liu campaign has been unfairly ignored during this election and that the Liu campaign was unfairly targeted by a long-term investigation because his candidacy threatened to bring about genuine reforms that would upset portions of the establishment.
Our various Citizens Defending Libraries members support a number of the mayoral candidates who have been friends to our cause, Sal Albanese and Randy Credio among them, but our recommendation here is in line with the fact that most will be voting for John Liu or Bill de Blasio.

Both Liu and de Balsio have participated in important press events (videos available) with Citizens Defending Libraries (other candidates have too).  We are proud that Mr. de Blasio, the Public Advocate, stood with us on the steps of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, calling for a halt to NYPL’s Central Library Plan and opposing the sale of Brooklyn libraries like the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific Branch libraries.  It was a powerful moment that sent a powerful and important message that needed to be sent and we are glad to have won Mr. de Blasio over to our cause.   Similarly, before that, Mr. Liu, as Comptroller, stood with us (Sal Albanese was also present) on the steps of City Hall criticizing these plans.

The main difference we see between Mr. Liu’s and Mr. de Blasio’s positions on libraries is that Mr. Liu has opposed the selling off of libraries and other public assets saying flatly, “once you sell them, you can't get them back.”  Mr. de Blasio also similarly opposes the sell-off of other public assets besides libraries but his rhetoric on libraries has left open the possibility that if the prices obtained were high enough, perhaps city libraries could be on the market.

This difference should not be dismissed as meaningless nuance.  Neither candidate, Liu or de Blasio, has addressed the distinctions involved further by returning the Citizens Defending Libraries library questionnaire, but John Liu did attend the Citizens Defending Libraries mayoral library forum where this concern was aired. De Blasio did not.

Mr. de Blasio is ahead in the polls right now.  Mr. Liu has consistently asserted that, for various reasons, the polls underestimate his support, especially from the city's large Asian community.   One thing we have noted is that we get report after report of rooms full of people, often people who have attended mayoral forums, who say that Liu has been the strongest and most convincing candidate at these forums and elsewhere, but that they are not planning to vote for him only because they believe he has no chance.  This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with an unfair result and it lets the media get away with not having adequately reported on an otherwise strong candidacy.  Brian Lehrer commented on how odd it was that Liu’s cogency, preparedness, and strong showing in mayoral forums was being oddly overlooked. (We recognize that similar things can be said of other candidates, but those other candidates truly do have less support as far as we can tell.)

Some may want to vote for Liu to prove the pundits wrong.

In connection with our recommendation that no one vote for Quinn we said;
Citizens Defending Libraries’ recommendations on the candidates are based first, foremost, although not exclusively, on the candidates’ positions on the sell-off, shrinkage and underfunding of New York City libraries.  Many of our Citizens Defending Libraries members tell us they consider themselves one-issue voters.  Nevertheless, we think that where the candidates stand on these library issues is apt to be strongly indicative of where the candidates truly stand with respect a number of other things.
If we were to resort to the analogy of other related issues to decide between the candidates we might vote for Mr. de Blasio based on his heroic fight in connection with saving Long Island College Hospital (LICH).  He has ven been arrested in this cause.  If we were looking instead at the Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards for an analogy to give us guidance we would vote for Liu based on the candidates’ records.  It is important that the first two libraries being pushed for sale in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights and the Pacific Branch, are next to Forest City Ratner property, a public subsidy-collecting firm from which Mr. de Blasio has received campaign support and funds.

One thing we saw from John Liu was consistency over time in maintaining his positions, such as not succumbing to Quinn's strong-arming on real estate issues when he was a member of the City Council.  

Mr. Thompson and Mr. Weiner?  They have never gotten back to us about their positions.  We have been after Mr. Thompson to do so since we first spoke with him in April.  We also remember the lackluster campaign he ran against Bloomberg (while Bloomberg was flowing tens of millions of dollars of subsidy to Mr. Thompson’s wife’s museum).

So our recommendation: Vote for John Liu or de Blasio, depending.

Republican Nomination For Mayor: Vote for George McDonald.
It is suspected that Joe Lhota will be the Republican nominee for mayor but we recommend voting for George McDonald based on his position on libraries and opposition to the NYPL’s Central Library Plan.   John Catsimatidis reserved a time slot at our mayoral forum committing to come and then unexpectedly did not arrive and did not return our library questionnaire either.  Ergo, we can neither tell you what Mr. Catsimatidis views on libraries are nor recommend him for the nomination.           

Mr. Lhota is a very capable, extremely smart candidate who knows New York City government inside and out.  He also has a certain no-nonsense character that might be very valuable in confronting the library situation.  Certainly, he would understand what is really going on.  Unfortunately, we cannot abide the nonsense of Mr. Lhota’s not getting back to us before the primary to meet with us, return our questionnaire, attend our mayoral forum, or otherwise inform us of his position on these library sales, shrinkages and underfunding.  Hopefully, he does not regard our concerns as nonsense.

We believe that Mr. Lhota has a strong sense of what he believes is right and wrong, something that likely relates to his noted, occasional flares of temper.  We just don’t know whether Mr. Lhota believes that library sales are wrong.  We reason that, because he has not gotten back to us after many months of reaching out, there is cause to suspect the worst.

Mr. Lhota with his knowledge and sharp intellect would certainly be able to penetrate and bring about a cessation of the public relations bullshit surrounding the library sales.  The question is what he would actually do.  The proposed library sales often involve what are promoted as public-private partnerships something Mr. Lhota understands and, as a public official, has often worked with in the past.  He may believe in their use.  He no doubt knows the budget numbers and underlying concepts needed to understand them.  Unfortunately, these “partnerships,” often disguise boondoggle handouts to developers and, in the past, Mr. Lhota has participated in confusing misrepresentations to the public about what benefit the public is truly getting in the end.

At our mayoral forum Mr. McDonald spoke eloquently and convincingly about libraries.  If you are a registered Republican send a message by voting for him.

Public Advocate: Vote for City Council member Tish James and don’t vote for Senator Daniel Squadron          

Tish James has been a strong supporter of Citizens Defending Libraries from the beginning, fighting against the sell-off of libraries.   Her Brooklyn Eagle/Huffington Post OpEd and her testimony at Micah Kellner’s assembly hearings on library sales says it all.  (See: OPINION: Shrinking the library system is a loss for New Yorkers, August 29, 2013.)  It is crucially important not only to vote for her but to tell others you know how important it is to libraries to vote for Public Advocate this year, and to vote for Tish.

It is even more important to vote for Public Advocate because Senator Daniel Squadron running for public advocate has refused to stand up for his current local constituents by opposing the sale of their Brooklyn Heights Library and other library sales.  Instead, Mr. Squadron has taken money from David Offensend, the Chief Operating Officer of the NYPL and one of he chief architects of the kind of library sales and shrinkages we are seeing around the city.

While there are other candidates, Sidique Wai and James Lane, who are supportive of our Citizens Defending Libraries campaign, none can match Tish James in her knowledge, energy and efforts in this area.  Candidates Reshma Saujani and Cathy Guerriero had provided us assurance that they are pro-library and conceivably are on the same page with us, but they have not gotten back with specific on-the-record detailed statements of their positions to assure this and did not return our questionnaire or make it to the candidates forum set up for a discussion of their positions.  (Mr. Lane is the Green party candidate and therefore will be on the general election ballot .  If a candidate like Squadron were named by the Democrats we would support Mr. lane over Mr. Squadron.)

Ms. Saujani also speaks about the Public Advocate’s office more in terms of job creation, something that office is not really designed to be involved with, and like some other candidates (Laurie Cumbo, running for City Council in the 35th) makes job creation sound more like government training to provide corporations a supply of employees. Better and more egalitarian in our mind is the kind of self improvement to be found visiting libraries.

The result of the Democratic primary will determine who the Public Advocate will be because there is no Republican candidate.

New York City Comptroller: No recommendation, but be wary of Scott Stringer’s support for the NYPL’s Central Library Plan.  Balance that against Eliot Spitzer’s real estate history. Vote Republican in the general election?

Unfortunately, neither Democratic candidate, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, nor former Governor, Eliot Spitzer, has gotten back to Citizens Defending Libraries libraries with their official positions about selling off, shrinking and underfunding libraries.  Neither has the Republican candidate John Burnett, although Burnett has given us some preliminary good indications of where he might stand on the issues.

The NYPL’s Central Library Plan has gone forward in Manhattan without Mr. Stringer’s opposition.  In addition, discussing these issues with Mr. Stringer’s Chief of Staff we were asked to explain what is wrong with shrinking libraries and putting them underground.  Does that tell us what Mr. Stringer thinks?  Mr. Stringer seems to be a very bad choice for Comptroller.

Mr. Spitzer speaks of taking on and standing up to the powers that be and he has a record of having taken on Wall Street.  The abuses of Wall Street are quite similar to the abuses of the New York real estate industry, but Mr. Spitzer, who comes form a real estate family and real estate wealth (with that wealth financing his campaign) has a poor record of opposing real estate boondoggles, the best example being Atlantic Yards.

It is a bad sign that Mr. Spitzer did not get back to us about an issue on which his opponent is so vulnerable.

So who would you like to take a chance on?  Is Mr. Spitzer really a better choice?

Borough Presidents: Vote for Eric Adams for Brooklyn Borough President and Robert Jackson for Manhattan Borough President.

(List of all the candidates running can be found here.)

Eric Adams has been terrific on supporting Citizens Defending Libraries, most recently touring the Brooklyn Heights and Pacific Branch libraries that are proposed to be sold off.  Robert Jackson stood with Citizens Defending Libraries on the steps of City Hall to oppose the library sales.  Hopefully he will be the best choice to stand with us if elected.

We do not have recommendations on the other borough president candidates but suggest that you make up your mind based on the responses you can get from the candidates about the libraries when you contact them

City Council Races: Vote for Steve Levin (33rd in Brooklyn), Ede Fox (35th in Brooklyn), Yetta Kurland (3rd in Manhattan), Micah Kellner (5th in Manhattan)

(List of all the candidates running can be found here.)

Citizens Defending Libraries is only making recommendations in a few council races.  We don’t have enough information to make recommendations in others.
33rd District in Brooklyn: The two candidates, Steve Levin and Stephen Pierson, are both very good on the library issues and both supportive of our campaign.  Levin is the incumbent and the more experienced.  He also has a position on the City Council land use committee which, if he keeps it, will be important in preventing the sale of libraries, including the Brooklyn Heights library in his district.   When he took office four years ago many were very worried by the fact that he had previously worked for political boss Assemblyman Vito Lopez and we were watching him closely as a result.  Consensus is that we were pleasantly surprised. 

35th District in Brooklyn: There are a number of candidates but we recommend voting for Ms. Fox over her rival Laurie Cumbo.  See: Ms. Fox’s answers to our library questionnaire.  Both candidates were early signers of our Citizens Defending Libraries petition.  One reason we recommend Ms. Fox over Ms. Cumbo is that, whether she likes it or not, PAC money from the real estate industry (Jobs for New York) has flooded into the district to back Ms. Cumbo.  If the real estate industry’s instinct is that they like Ms. Cumbo, then we are troubled.  In our opinion Ms. Cumbo has also spoken too warmly about the changes brought to Brooklyn by the Barclays Center, seeing the future too much in these terms.

3rd  District in Manhattan:  Yetta Kurland has always been an excellent and active candidate opposing such things as the demise of St. Vincent's hospital.  Had Ms. Kurland defeated Ms. Quinn in the last go around of City Council elections four years ago we might not be facing the current sell-offs of libraries unfolding under the Bloomberg/Quinn regime.  Ms. Kurland stood with us on the steps of City Hall to oppose library sales.

5th  District in Manhattan: Micah Kellner and Ed Hartzog, both candidates for City Council in the 5th district, both stood with Citizens Defending Libraries to oppose the sale of New York City libraries.  If Mr. Kellner wins this New York City Council seat it will be a sad loss for us when he gives up his seat in the state assembly, but we have to give support to him for where he would most like to be.  Mr. Kellner is one of the most strikingly able elected officials we have encountered, someone with a future to watch.  His first assembly hearing on the subject of libraries (with more to come) was consistently right on target.  There are powerful people on the other side and Kellner showed courage in making the issue so high profile.  Immediately afterward he was targeted for some bad press which we think is largely to be disregarded.

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