Monday, September 23, 2013

Sell-Offs Of New York City Libraries Gets Focus In Public Advocate Runoff Race Between James and Squadron

From Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube video of rally in April outside the Brooklyn Heights Library, one of the libraries threatened to be sold off
There is an October 1st runoff of the race for the Public Advocate.  Letitia James, the City Council member famous for taking on Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards government-assisted mega-monopoly actually won the Democratic primary for that nomination, but by just a few percentage points shy of what she needed to avoid a runoff race.  She is now running against Daniel Squadron, the runner-up who outspent Ms. James by more than two-to-one in that original primary.  In all, Ms. James, who was running against four other Democratic candidates, was outspent more than four-to-one in that first leg of the race almost winning the forty percent nonetheless.

The issue of selling off New York City libraries is now shaping up to be a big issue in the race, getting a lot of spotlighting focus.

The Issue?:  Our libraries are being emptied of books (devastating pictures here) in preparation for selling them off in real estate deals intended to benefit developers, not the public.   The Brooklyn Heights Library is one of the first libraries being sold in a deal where it looks like most of the proceeds and most of the benefit of any such sale will go to Forest City Ratner, whether or not Forest City Ratner officially takes over the library as formally-named developer of the site.  See:  Friday, September 20, 2013, Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is SoldForest City Ratner?: Tish James is going to feel right in her element taking them on again as it becomes part of the library fight she has taken on.

Tish James Opposes Bloomberg Sell-Off of NYC Libraries

Ms. James has been opposing the sale of New York City libraries since the city-wide plans for these sales first came to light as can been seen in a series of videos available on Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel (March 8, 2013, April 13, 2013, and June 30, 2013, - and Ms. James visited other Citizens Defending Libraries events as well) and is made clear in Ms. James Huffington Post/Brooklyn Eagle Op-Ed piece:  Shrinking the Library System Is A Loss for New Yorkers (August 21, 2013) and OPINION: Shrinking the library system is a loss for New Yorkers (August 29, 2013).  Note:  I am a cofounder of Citizens Defending Libraries and a promoter of its petition against the sale of city libraries for the benefit of developers.

Letitia James & Stephen Levin Fight Library Selloff Schemes (From the June 30th Micah Kellner State Assembly hearings on the sell-off NYC libraries where Tish James spoke against such sell-offs.  State Senator Velmanette Montgomery attended and made a statement.  State Senator Daniel Squadron did not attend or provide a statement opposing the sales.)

Squadron Campaign Recognition of Library Sell-offs Relevance to Runoff Campaign For Public Advocate

Proof that the library sell-offs is becoming a focus of the campaign is presenting itself in multiple ways.  One of them: Just a half hour before Daniel Squadron’s kickoff press conference to launch his runoff campaign Squadron released a press release (also handed out at the press event) with his new position on the library sell-offs.  The statement says he is now against them.  His campaign sent his statement to Citizens Defending Libraries at the same time.  There will be more analysis about where Mr. Squadron actually now stands and about clarifying questions Citizens Defending Libraries has asked him to answer as we proceed. . .
Mayoral candidate de Blasio with Citizens Defending Libraries at 42nd Street library in July
In any event, it is strange to think that any elected representative or candidate running for office would ever openly favor the sell-off and shrinkage of New York City libraries.  Christine Quinn favored the library sales and shrinkages, but she did not do so very openly.  As it was, she lost the race of for the Democratic nomination for mayor while Bill de Blasio, the candidate who triumped handily in beating her, stood with Citizens Defending Libraries on the steps of the library at 42nd  Street to decry and call a halt to these sales.    

Linkages: Libraries and Campaign- Squadron Supporters Attacking James And Supporting Library Sell-off 

Prior to Mr. Squadron’s issuance of his campaign kickoff library press release, the first indication that people supporting Mr. Squadron see the library issue as an important campaign issue came another way: in communications from Deborah Hallen right after the election.  We'll explain who Deborah Hallen is in a moment.  The communications from Ms. Hallen attempted to attack and attempted to discredit Tish James respecting her stand on the libraries whilst arguing that the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library is proper and publicly supportable.   (Does this involved the implication that sales of other threatened city libraries should also proceed?)

The primary election which Tish James won and Daniel Squadron lost was September 10th.  The first communication from Ms. Hallen we know of, to at least one person, was a voice mail was left the morning of the 12th at 10:46 AM.

Ms. Hallen is now the head of a 501(c)(3) ("charitable") group named (many think deceptively) “The Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Library.” This past spring, Noticing New York first wrote about how that group has been supporting the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library and how the Brooklyn Heights Association has used that "Friends" group’s support to rationalize its similarly condoning the sale.  See: Saturday, April 13, 2013, Condoning The Sale and Shrinkage Of The Brooklyn Heights Library, Does The Brooklyn Heights Associations Think Of Friends Group As A Fig Leaf? It Should Think AgainThe Friends group, the Brooklyn Heights Association, Urban Librarians Unite?: It is worth taking the time to ask why there are a few groups like these that, surprisingly, support or won’t oppose the sell-off of new York City Libraries.

Since Noticing New York’s April 13th examination of Hallen’s "Friends" group I have provided little Noticing New York follow up about that group's activities, although a fair amount has happened in terms of Ms. Hallen’s efforts to purge from that group any alternative points of view about saving the Heights library.  We’d like to think that the very small group is relatively inconsequential in the broader scheme of things.  Indeed, it has certainly been less so after the revelations of the April 13th Noticing New York article.  After that the membership of the so-called “Community Advisory Committee” (set up to provide the appearance of a public process as the Brooklyn Heights Library is sold) was expanded to include other more credible groups to “represent” the community.  Nevertheless, Ms. Hallen on behalf of her group condoning the library sale, still "chairs" its meetings with the BPL's Josh Nachowitz, formerly of the mayor's real estate development agency.

After the April 13th article Ms. Hallen contacted us to urge us to believe the following distinction: That while the “Friends” group she is leading is going along with the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, she says she personally opposes seeing the library sold.

Here is a transcript of the voicemail Ms Hallen left on the 12th, the first of her communications attempting to discredit Ms. James' position on libraries.  Click on the video below to listen to the actual message itself:
Hi Martha it's Deborah Hallen, calling you,  The Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library-  and Obama. of course.  I noticed that the Citizens in Defense of Libraries [sic, actually Citizens Defending Libraries*] are supporting Tish James against Daniel Squadron. And I thought that you should know that ten years, when she was in City Council, she gave no money to the support of the Brooklyn Public Library, though she represented Central, Clinton Hill and Walt Whitman libraries and they needed tens of millions of funding requests or they made tens of millions of funding request and she gave nothing to the libraries. So I find it a little odd that the Citizens are supporting her and I thought you should know this.

Thanks and bye for now.
(* Note: We have observed that Squadron supporters exchanging information concerning how to attack Ms. James about libraries, tend to refer to Citizens Defending Libraries incorrectly as “Citizens in Defense of Libraries.”  Tish James got under Mayor Bloomberg’s skin by opposing real estate projects like Atlantic Yards, and she likes to tell stories about how Bloomberg kept calling her “Trish” full well knowing her nickname was as actually “Tish.”)

Library Sell-off Group Smears Tish, Backs Squadron  - From Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel.

Deborah Hallen of the 501(c)(3) Library "Friends" Group Enters Political Fray of Public Advocate Race Attacking Tish James 

Was it appropriate for Ms. Hallen to be invoking her status as the head of a 501(c)(3), theoretically “charitable” organization as she leads into this campaign communication?  Citizens Defending Libraries, by contrast, has not organized itself as a 501(c)(3) specifically so as not to be hampered by restrictions that might, as a result, apply on speech of a political nature.

Previously, Ms. Hallen has communicated with her Friends group trustees asserting that they are restricted vis-à-vis their possible opposition to a sale of the Brooklyn Heights library. Here is what Ms. Hallen previously emailed her 501(c)(3) “Friends of the Library” Trustees when she was telling them they could not oppose the sale of the libraries:
I have been told that as a representative of the Friends (by our attorney and accountant) that we cannot oppose the impending sale 

    * * *

ALSO PLEASE UNDERSTAND that we are not in the position of trying to stop the sale. We are a 501(c) 3 Organization and have to adhere to our by-laws. Recall that our position is to have continuity of library service no matter what happens to the building.
 More Such Linkages: Into the Weeds on Funding Allegations

Mr. Squadron’s kickoff event was scheduled for Noon at Borough Hall on Sunday September 15, 2013.  At 12:09 PM, virtually the moment Squadron was supposed to start speaking and 39 minutes after Squadron had issued his press release with his new statement on libraries Ms. Hallen followed up with an email attack on Tish James and her position on saving the libraries from sale.  Perhaps awkwardly for Squadron (whose campaign seems to be feeding Hallen her information-- perhaps with additional coordination from BPL officials wanting to sell libraries) she weaves into her email statements in which she is supportive of the Brooklyn Heights Library sale:  
Letitia James was elected to the City Council in 2003; her district includes the Central Library at GAP, Walt Whitman (a historic Carnegie primarily serving the lower income community in the Whitman-Ingersoll Houses), and Clinton Hill.

BPL has met with Ms. James several times and fully briefed her on the Pacific Street project. Ms. James has claimed that she was never briefed and had no information about the project.

Clinton Hill requires over $3M in capital work and Walt Whitman over $6.5M. BPL has asked Ms. James for millions over ten years and received absolutely nothing in discretionary (called “Reso A” in Council bureaucratic language) funds. The Council (at least since 2006) has published all of their capital and expense grants ( This year, for instance, BPL received discretionary capital funding from CMs Dilan, Greenfield, Lander, Gentile and Reyna. CM Dilan generously gave BPL $1M. Ms. James? Nothing.

Ms. James will claim that BPL “never asked her for money” or “didn’t ask aggressively.” This is also not true, and BPL can get you copies of letters they've sent to her asking for funds.

Ms. James will claim the current Brooklyn Heights project is being “rushed” through the approval process before the Mayor leaves office. This is demonstrably false. As you know BPL won’t even be close to starting the public approval process until mid-late next year, and this is far from a “done deal” until the extensive public review is complete. BPL has gone out of their way to be as transparent as possible and have started a dialogue with the public long before the RFP was even drafted.

The branches in James' district illustrate perfectly why BPL's project in Brooklyn Heights makes sense for the borough as a whole. The Walt Whitman Library has over $6.5M in capital needs. It’s a historic Carnegie building serving a high need population isolated in an increasingly gentrified community. BPL will generate capital revenue from Brooklyn Heights that can be plowed back into Walt Whitman and other branches just like it, borough wide. BPL strategy at Brooklyn Heights allows them to build a brand new branch in Brooklyn Heights and generate desperately needed money to pay for projects at branches like Walt Whitman.

BPL is currently using Mayoral money to fund a small renovation project at Clinton Hill. Doing what  Letitia James wants them to do would mean cancelling that project, and many like it borough wide, and pouring that money into Brooklyn Heights. BPL just can’t do that.

BPL receives two types of funding from the City Council. Usually each year they get 5M from the Brooklyn Delegation/Speaker's office that they use for projects borough wide. They then also receive additional funding from individual members. This is really where Brooklyn does worse than other boroughs.

Letitia James will say she has awarded millions in grants for BPL and take credit for the Delegation money. Beyond raising her hand in a meeting, she has done nothing to support the library.

Please note that the Brooklyn Heights building will not be sold unless there is a meaningful bid.
As for Ms. Hallen’s assertion the sale of the library is not being “rushed,” pushed through suddenly at the last minute, the library is even now being emptied of books and Ms. Hallen has herself acknowledges that the BPL made and kept secret its decision to sell the library from at least 2008 when it decided to evict the Business and Career Library until 2013 when it started moving forward fast to sign a contract before the end of Bloomberg's term.

That lack of transparency on BPL's part (even if Ms. Hallen asserts “BPL has gone out of their way to be as transparent as possible”) presents a problem in retroactively analyzing what City Council members who were kept in the dark should have done with respect to providing funds to libraries.  City Council members knew nothing about planned sales or how funds being provided to the BPL and NYPL were actually being used.

At the times in question, Ms. James was chair of Brooklyn delegation, and negotiated with the mayor for money for Clinton Hill, but she didn’t have the information the BPL was keeping secret and which she needed to be fully effective to have that delegation seek and procure funds.

Ms. Hallen is also, essentially, criticizing Ms. James for not having gotten sucked into a funding charade that Noticing New York has criticized in the past.  I wrote the following back in March:
What’s wrong with this picture is that none of it should be going on the first place and that in the end, despite the pleasing happy-ending show of heroism, it still leaves the libraries underfunded.  So underfunded, in fact, that now at the end of the Bloomberg era as part of an overall bigger end-of-term fire sale to the real estate industry* Bloomberg is getting ready to sell off libraries and shrink the system.

        (* Mid-town rezoning anyone?)

This is not what City Council or Borough President discretionary funds are for.  And if the City Council and Borough Presidents have the imagination for how those funds ought to be better used (and they indeed should) they ought to be screaming their heads off about the intentional underfunding of libraries, not content that "saving libraries" is an easy way to use the funds while looking as if they are riding to the rescue on a white horse.
See: Thursday, March 7, 2013, Tossing Dwarfs?: It’s Time To Demand That We Change The Way We Fund Libraries . . End The False Political Theater.

Here are some factors that complicate maters greatly when City Council members (or even the donating public) attempt to send money to the libraries in the midst of this charade:
    •    Not all City Council members have equal access to discretionary funds.  Speaker Christine Quinn was less generous in giving Tish James discretionary funds than others because the speaker has used the handouts of those funds for the purposes of reward and punishment, and Tish James stood up to Speaker Quinn more than most City Council members.
    •    As noted, until late January of this year nobody outside the Bloomberg administration and the BPL knew that those people would be selling off libraries using the lack of funds as an excuse- The plans to sell libraries go back at least to 2008, but were kept secret since that time.  Therefore, no council member could perceive urgency or could have put money into a library about to be under threat on condition that it not be sold.
    •    Discretionary funds coming from City Council members and Borough Presidents have been met with off-setting reductions on the other side from the Bloomberg administration, negating their effect.
    •    Funds provided to libraries have been used to pay for moving forward the real estate deals to sell libraries.
    •    Funds provided to libraries in very recent years have also been wasted as library assets paid for with them are sold off.  For example, within the time window roughly approximate to what Ms. Hallen is talking about, taxpayers paid $50 million for SIBL, the Science, Industry and Business Library, only to see it sold off for an apparent substantial loss, and in 2007 the Donnell Library renovated with a substantial amount of taxpayer funds was sold off at a fraction of its value to the public.
    •    City Council members who redirect their scarce discretionary funds into this library money pit can’t use those funds for other competing needs.
Under these circumstances, could and should a Council member have directed her concilmatic discretionary funds to libraries?  How would you know except in hindsight and with greater transparency than we have now.

What was James doing?  Here is a report in the Clinton Hill Blog about how James was fighting for restoration of library funds and library hours back on March 31, 2009: Our Local Reps React to the Proposed Budget Cuts.

Squadron Balks When Asked to Speak About His New Library Press Release

As Mr. Squadron wound up his campaign kickoff press conference I asked him to speak for the record about his position on libraries per his press release being handed out at that time.  He declined, dodging the opportunity, and the result is here on video on Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Channel:

Squadron Campaign Kickoff: Equivocation on Libraries? 

It is not as if people haven’t been after Squadron for the longest time on these issues.  It’s just that the responses have been inadequate.  Here is an open letter from “long time Brooklyn Heights resident and preservationist Martin L. Schneider” to Mr. Squadron on the subject that appeared in the Brooklyn Heights Blog March 28, 2013: Preservationist to Squadron: BPL Is Prepared To Sellout For A Mess Of Pottage

Similarly, Citizens Defending Libraries members were constantly reaching out to Mr. Squadron.

More Support For Squadron Coupled With Support For Sale Of Brooklyn Heights Library On Brooklyn Heights Blog

The Brooklyn Heights Blog put up the Citizens Defending Libraries Squadron video in a post and you get the feeling that, when they did so, they may have been intending some damage control for Squadron.  Unfortunately for everyone, what might have been intended as damage control extended to an apparent argument (a “forward thinking” one) for selling the Brooklyn Heights Library based on slurring those who patronize it:
So, is it so strange for us to be more focused on that sort of forward thinking than to fight for a building with broken air conditioning, nannies on cell phones, homeless men fighting and creeps surfing for porn?
Noticing New York previously wrote about how some see selling the Heights library as a welcome opportunity to evict those they see as not belonging in the Brooklyn Heights community: Tuesday, May 14, 2013, A Consideration of Race, Equality, Opportunity and Democracy As NYC Libraries Are Sold And The Library System Shrunk And Deliberately Underfunded.

Most of the comments posted on the Brooklyn Heights Blog post were against any sale of the library but two commenters chimed with quotes (that can be added to the collection in my previous article) to the effect that those using the library were undesirables. 

“Lady in the Heights” who announced she was “voting for Squadron” and seemed intent on the idea that books can be replaced with Kindles said:
I used to spend time in the library until it was overrun with nannies IGNORING their charges. The children's room is appalling.
“HenryLoL,” reacting negatively to the support for keeping the library said:
Give it a rest already. Most of us here cant wait for that dump to be blown up. In its place will be nice housing and a new library. Cadman Plaza West and the hood in total will be better for it.
“HenryLoL” who seems to like selling off public assets to benefit developers at the expense of the public, similarly doesn’t like hospitals and wants to get rid of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) at the other end of Brooklyn Heights.  On another blog post he said about LICH:
Close this dump down! The City has NO RIGHT to tell this organization what to do. We have more hospitals in a few square miles than most cities have in 100. Getting to the point of ABSURD! And it is all because of unions!
(There are those involved in the fight to save LICH who think Squadron is doing the barest minimum in that regard- That's something else that’s relevant to running for Public Advocate.)

Here is my own comment to the post taking the issue with the implicit sympathy given Mr. Squadron by calling my requesting him for a statement “an ambush”:
“Ambush” connotes surprise. As for surprise: Citizens Defending Libraries was surprised that one half hour before his kickoff press conference Daniel Squadron issued a press release changing his position on the sell-off of New York City libraries, the Brooklyn Heights Library among them. I would say we were surprised and pleasantly gratified to have had an effect.

As for Mr. Squadron being surprised by us: Normally, when you issue a press release in connection with a press conference with your campaign staff handing out stacks of those releases at the conference, you expect to be asked about that statement you have released. Too bad Mr. Squadron did not use the opportunity to speak to NY1 about libraries and their sell-off if he truly wants the public to know his position.

If “ambush” means that the ambusher springs out from hiding; no one was hiding- We were standing in plain sight of Mr. Squadron with our protect-the-libraries signs for well over a half hour before we approached Mr. Squadron to ask him to speak about his written statement. Some would infer from the issuance of the Squadron library position statement a half hour before his kickoff (plus the fact that they emailed it to us at that time) that Squadron and his campaign managers were expecting Citizens Defending Libraries long before we ever showed up.

Well before the press conference started I spoke with one of Mr. Squadron’s campaign managers saying that we were hoping to get an oral statement that morning from Mr. Squadron based on his new release and I even used the contact phone number his campaign provided to initiate this conversation, meeting at the press conference site with his designated representative.

I politely waited to speak to Mr. Squadron until he had completed all other business and was not distracted by other matters.

Where the Brooklyn Heights Blog switches into “Point of View” it raises some interesting topics about libraries that are worth discussing. I think you will find that those topics are covered by the questions that Citizens Defending Libraries presented to Mr. Squadron in the form of a questionnaire and in connection with its Candidates Forum on libraries, questions about his position on libraries to which Mr. Squadron has not yet responded. I think you will find that those topics are amply discussed and debated by others on Citizens Defending Libraries web pages.

As for referring to the air conditioning at the Brooklyn Heights Library as “broken,” the better adjective would be “unfixed,” given the very strange documentation provided by the BPL attempting to explain what went wrong with the library’s air conditioning AFTER its decision to push this library onto the chopping block for real estate developer benefit. (cf: The Donnell Library.)

From using and canvassing the Brooklyn Heights Library I know that it is intensely used by a broad swath of society, including families such as our own that are definitely at the high end of the socioeconomic spectrum. I think it is unfortunate that in arguing for the sale and shrinkage of the library you offer a `profiling’ and, I think, false caricature of people using the library whose resources are not equal to ours. Sadly, you are not the first to suggest that selling the library would evict what you are portraying as a different and undesirable population. (Note that our last forum was co-sponsored by the NAACP.)

I am glad that Mr. Squadron’s press statement is now up on the web. When I last checked I had to inform his campaign people that it wasn’t.
A Matter of Proper Tone?

When Citizens Defending Libraries first met with Mr. Squadron as a state senator representing us to ask him to oppose the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library he used it as an opportunity to admonish us that he considered that Citizens Defending Libraries was using an inappropriate “tone” when it was decrying the sale, shrinkage and deliberate underfunding of the New York City’s libraries for the sake of creating real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public.

What is an appropriate tone when Citizens Defending Libraries challenges a sell-off of public assets that is not for the public good?  Or the proper tone when the Public Advocate does its job by opposing such sell-offs?

An example of what Mr. Squadron meant by inappropriate tone?   He thought the cartoon (below) created by Mark Hurwitt was out of bounds.

From the pen of Mark Hurwitt: BPL officials say they want to sign a contract with a developer for the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library before the end of Bloomberg's term.  The NYPL also plans to demolish the research stacks of the 42nd Street on a similar time frame- On Bloomberg's own site, something he says he wants to accomplish (along with his Mid-town Rezoning!

What about the similarly critical works of illustrator Simon Verity like the one below?
From the pen of Simon Verity: Is Bruce Ratner going to get the Brooklyn Heights Library?  Maybe.
Mr. Verity’s works illustrate the cover story in The Nation this month about the NYPL’s sell-offs of city libraries.
The Nation's current cover story by Scott Sherman reports on early (June of 2007) communications with the Bloomberg administration to sell off NYC libraries
Inside it is illustrated with drawings by Simon Verity like: "Not much of a civilization, they destroyed the library," and. . .
. . . Playing of the name of NYPL president Anthony W. Marx. . .
Giving Mr. Squadron the Last Word

The end of an article is considered a place of honor and, usually, it is considered that whoever gets the last word is favored by getting to top off the argument.  I’ll give Mr. Squadron the last word.  The following is his short press release statement on libraries.  It is just that without more that we have asked him for, including responses to questions presented by Citizens Defending Libraries, and, more important, actions, it is difficult to know what it really means.  In other words we are still waiting for Mr. Squadron’s last words:    
For Immediate Release: September 12, 2013 [Later corrected to the 15th, this incorrect date- the date of Deborah Hallen's morning voice message- is likely when it was first drafted]
Contact: Amy Spitalnick, 516-521-0128

        Statement from Daniel Squadron about New York City Libraries

I am opposed to the proposed plans by the city's library systems in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

As always, I believe that meaningful community input is absolutely necessary; when it comes to these proposed plans, transparency and responsiveness have been insufficient.

I also believe that it is simply unacceptable to sell or shrink libraries for profit.

And I am deeply opposed to cuts to library funding, which put our libraries in crisis.

I've been proud to work on these issues in the State Senate, receiving an 'A' from New Yorkers for Better Libraries on my voting record last year.

I continue to be focused on protecting funding and finding solutions that ensure strong, healthy libraries across the five boroughs.
Physical copy of press lease on new library position that Squadron was handing out at kickoff press conference


alfie said...

So now we have confirmed what many of us suspected all along.
Daniel Squadron is a Bloomberg's poodle.
Deborah Hallen is a wannabee member of the Heights elite. The BHA cannot lobby due to their tax status so she lobbies for library destruction and Squadron and tells untruths about Tish James for them.
The truth is the BPL did not request money from many local electeds because they wanted the libraries to fall apart so they could give away this precious public asset to developers..

alfie said...

Also the owner of the Brooklyn Heights Blog and his photographer were overheard with anti Tish talk yesterday at the Dog show. The said things like "she's like that" and the b word.. The BHblog seems to be anti-strong women and very pro keeping woman in thier place.. They are not reporting this fairly due to their own issues