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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April 8, 2014 Open Letter from CDL To Brooklyn Public Library Trustees Delivered At Trustees Meeting- Plus Information About the Meeting

At a few minute before 6:00 PM, some of the protestors have now gone inside to the 5:30 PM BPL trustees meeting that, starting late, has yet to begin-  This is the view from the trustees board meeting room of those protestors still on the street before they disband for the day.  More pictures and video of the rally, a reading of the letter, available on this page.
The following letter was delivered by Citizens Defending Libraries to the Brooklyn Public Library trustees before their April 8, 2014 meeting.

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April 8, 2014

Brooklyn Public Library Board of Trustees

Re:    Selling Libraries, Shrinking The Library System, Participating In An Excuse That Involves Deliberately Underfunding New York City’s Libraries

To The Trustees:

As we move forward, the new era we now enter with a new BPL Chairman, a new Mayor, a new Brooklyn Borough President cannot be one that carries over the misguided and anti-democratic agenda of the Bloomberg administration to sell, shrink and underfund libraries, eliminating books and librarians from their premises.  It isn’t fair to everyday Brooklynites.  It isn’t healthy for a free society.

In today’s world we see the effect of wealth and political inequality everywhere and it is of the utmost importance to where we are headed as a society.  The best example of how far things go awry with such inequality gaining the upper hand is the plundering of our publicly owned assets.  A prime example of the plundering of public assets that should be protected and held in respectful, dutiful trust is the sale, shrinkage and deliberate underfunding of our libraries with the elimination of books and librarians. Selling, shrinking libraries, putting their resources out of reach, leads to a vicious cycle of decreased democracy and opportunity, leading to more wealth and political inequality.

We need a Brooklyn for everybody, one Brooklyn where everyone’s interest is served, not a Brooklyn where when real estate values go up in Downtown Brooklyn or near the heavily subsidized Ratner/Prokhorov Barclay’s arena, we boot out the regular Brooklynites who use the highly accessible centrally located libraries there.  Neighborhoods don’t have boundaries, nor should one neighborhood or one group of Brooklynites be pitted against another, attempting to disenfranchise it.  For the same reason that real estate values are now going up in these central locations, everyday Brooklynites have always come to these libraries from all over Brooklyn, including from the neighboring projects.  When real estate values go up, our public assets cannot be treated as mere spoils to be devoured by developers building luxury towers.  Nor can a temporary and deliberate underfunding of libraries during the Bloomberg era be used as an excuse to sell and shrink critically valuable assets that, once sold, can never be recovered.

We have written to you before and say the same thing again. These are not grey moral areas.  Don’t participate in the pretense that they are.


Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries

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The new BPL Chairman referred to in the letter is attorney Nicholas A. Gravante, Jr.  (According to his  Boies Schiller & Flexner law firm: "Mr. Gravante's trial victories included winning an acquittal for three leading New York City real estate companies indicted under the Martin Act.")  Chairman Gravante's name may sound similar to, but should not be confused with the name of Queens Library president Thomas Galante.

The new Mayor is Bill de Blasio.

The new Brooklyn Borough President is Eric Adams.

At the trustees meeting the trustees took steps to advance the Bloomberg agenda to sell off and shrink libraries as follows.
BPL trustess get underway with the business of selling libraries
In the meeting trustee Peter Aschkenasy talked about (this was tweeted during the meeting) how he had been working on Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to get him to go along with the real estate deals (hoping for the "first big boost" for the sell-off plans from Adams) and that he thought that by showing Adams (because Adams would essentially respond better to `pictures' than to a thousand words) how the libraries could be digital so the libraries could be sold.  He used the phrase that he thought Adams had "signed on to the theory" that libraries had to be sold and shrunk to "meet capital needs."

The "Information Commons" at the Grand Army Plaza library.  Borough President Eric Adams' first transitional meeting was held here and Mr. Aschkenasy said that by showing Adams what you see above Adams was convinced about the digital future of the libraries.  The BPL president said that the library was busy reaching out to the newly officials and that one thing it was doing was making its space available to them for use mentioning doing this twice for mayor de Blasio and recently for a March 24th Eric Schneiderman Attorney General's Office forum (attended by Citizens Defending Libraries)     Unstated, perhaps left for the BPL trustees in the know to implicitly understand is that Mr. Aschkenasy was co-chair on Mr. Adams transition team, an opportunity for an extra head start in convincing Adams to sell libraries.  More of  a head start?: BPL president Linda Johnson was also on the transition team.even though during Adam's campaign for his office he opposed the BPL's library sales.
Mr. Aschkenasy is a prominently successful high-end restauranteur who has for many years has been on the fringes of politics and real estate development being appointed to more than one post by the Bloomberg administration including Mayor Bloomberg's Midtown Committee and the Brooklyn Bridge Park development corporation.  He is a founding member of the Association for a Better New York which, February 1, 2013, held a special event where NYPL president Anthony Marx and real estate tycoon Bill Rudin joined together to promote the NYPL's Central Library Plan that sells off and shrinks Manhattan libraries while demolishing the research stacks of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library that hold three million reference books.  Mr. Aschkenasy has also been put on the Community Advisory Committee that was formed to bless and provide the appearance of community input and process while advancing the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library.

Then trustee Jordan Barowitz of the Durst organization, former Bloomberg election campaign spokesperson, spoke with respect to nominating new trustees.  It is interesting that Stephen Schwarzman head of the Blackstone Group (with the world's largest real estate investment firm and multiple other real estate business tie-ins) is the NYPL trustee heading the nominating committee function for the NYPL and, here at the BPL, Barowitz of the Durst real estate organization was performing similar functions.  (We are informed that Mr. Barowitz once had an exchange with another attendee at a library event, someonehe knew from way back.  He asked why the other person was there.  She said she was there because she loved libraries and was there to support them.  She reported that Barowitz in turn explained his own presence saying he was a real estate developer.)

Barowitz proposed two new trustees.   One was a woman, Kim-Thu Posnett, a managing director of Goldman Sachs (the too-big-to-fail Vampire Squid investment bank that issued the bonds for the Ratner/Prokhorov arena). As part of Goldman's Media and Technology Group she has techie credentials to promote going digital.  An appointment of someone from Goldman is perhaps consistent with BPL president Linda Johnson's statement that her ideal trustee would be Goldman CEO Llyod Blankfein a proponent of the notion that the public needs to lower its expectations about entitlements that he is firm“they're not going to get.”

The other trustee Barowitz presented was lawyer Hank Gutman (Henry B. Gutman) of the real estate and banking law firm of Simpson Thachter & Bartlett.  Gutman , whom Jordan noted he personally knows, is a big player amongst the Brooklyn Heights power elite (a former Brooklyn Heights Association board member) and has been a big pusher for development in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  This appointment to the BPL board at a time when the selling off of the Brooklyn Heights Library is a front and center priority may prove to be a sort of coming out of the shadows for Mr. Gutman.  One of Simpson Thachter & Bartlett's most prominent clients is Mr. Schwarzman's Blackstone Group, for which the law firm has provided representation since its inception.  See:  Wall Street Journal-  The Blackstone-Simpson Thacher Connection, by Peter Lattman, march 16, 2007.

Would you like to see the Mr. Gutman's name alongside Mr. Aschkenasy's and that of David Offensend?  Why David Offensend?  Because Offensend as Chief Operating Officer at the NYPL, coming from Evercore a spin-off of Blackstone, began the sales and shrinakes of libraries with the sudden secretive sale of the Donnell Library for a pittance.  Messrs. Gutman, Aschkenasy and Offensend were all appointed to serve together on the board of  the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation.

More development in Brooklyn Heights: hank Gutman, Peter Aschkenasy and David Offensend all on the
the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation board

Mr. Gutman has been pushed for real estate development in Brooklyn Bridge Park both figuratively and literally.  Several people have described how Mr. Gutman apparently annoyed by people handing out flyers opposing development in the park, roughly pushed leafleters, knocking of his feet a man in his upper 80s as he did so. (The fellow reportedly had to be caught so as not fall to the floor.) As the trustees were asked to vote for Mr. Gutman he was described as "very wise person."

The trustees were told that appointing Mr. Gutman should be "helpful" because Gutman was "an very early and strong supporter of the mayor."  Would Mayor de Blasio truly be comfortable with this individual being one of the first three appointees to the board on his watch?  The third trustee appointed on de Blasio's watch was Anthony Crowell, former counsel to Mayor Bloomberg and the previous chair of the BPL trustees presiding over the library sales, appointed at the very last BPL trustees meeting in a slick little maneuver.  At the end of last year, he was honored in a BPL Gala event and then immediately afterwards, rather than have his Bloomberg appointment to the BPL board simply expire he has the BPL trustees reappoint him to the board on another line.  This slick little maneuver was carried out behind Borough President Eric Adams back without the courtesy of notifying or clearing it with him as would have been appropriate.  There is also more than a fair chance the move also unfolded behind de Blasio's back as well.

These two new trustees proposed by Mr. Barowitz were then approved in what was for all intents and purposes the first vote cast by the BPL board under its new chairman.

Oh, one last thing. . . .  Many people know that the lion's share of the funding for the library systems comes from the City of New York and its taxpayers, and many people quite properly think of the libraries as being more or less like other essential municipal services.  But consider the following discussed at the meeting by the trustees about a plan to raise funds.  They will be inviting famous authors to read at the trustees homes for gatherings of contributors starting May 20th with American Book Award and U.S. National Book Award winner Alice McDermott.

The trustees were invited to think who their favorite authors are to invite to read.

More pictures and video on this page.

1 comment:

  1. What is a greater asset to a community: a library well-stocked with books or a new high rise providing housing for the few?