April 9, 2014
Allies of de Blasio call on him to defund Central Library Plan, give money to branch libraries
by Sal Robinson
The time for Mayor de Blasio to make a decision on the $150 million the city originally pledged to the NYPL’s Central Library Plan is growing nearer, and the pressure from opponents to the plan has grown correspondingly greater and more focused.
Yesterday, the Mayor’s office received a letter from fourteen prominent New Yorkers, many of them past allies, asking him to take the funds set aside for the library’s renovation of the main branch and give them to the branch libraries instead.
The signatories included the presidents of major unions, religious leaders, the heads of community organizations, politicians, and a smattering of celebrities. Among them were Dan Cantor, Executive Director of the Working Families Party, Hector Figueroa and George Gresham of two branches of the SEIU, Reverend Al Sharpton, Reverend Donna Schaper, Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church, Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, President of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan NY, Gloria Steinem, and Susan Sarandon. The full list is available at the website of the Committee to Save the New York Public Library, which has been organizing opposition to the library’s plans.
In their letter, which was also sent to the City Council, the Comptroller, and the Public Advocate, the writers call on de Blasio to stand by his earlier opposition—quoting his own words from last July back to him, when he came out against the plan in a news conference on the steps of the library, deep into the mayoral race. (In a pointed design choice, the banner photo at the top of the Committee to Save the NYPL’s website shows de Blasio front and center at this conference.)
They also voice a key concern about the use of taxpayers’ money for a plan that shoehorns the current Mid-Manhattan Library into the Stephen A. Schwarzman building and doesn’t address at all the shortfalls that branch libraries face on a daily basis.
Taking money away from branch libraries to subsidize NYPL’s real estate plans will hurt students, seniors, immigrants, job-seekers: the millions of New Yorkers from all walks of life who rely on this public commons. Consolidating three libraries into one will diminish library services and cost jobs.
For those who are attempting to read the tea leaves, de Blasio’s appointment earlier this month of Tom Finkelpearl as cultural affairs commissioner for the city seems like a good sign. Finkelpearl, who comes from the Queens Museum, has a history of reaching out to community organizations and concentrating on the needs of the outer boroughs. He has, however, so far remained tightlipped on the question of the NYPL. From a Times article by Robin Pogrebin:
Mr. Finkelpearl also declined to weigh in on controversial cultural projects that may ultimately require city support, namely the New York Public Library’s planned renovation of its flagship building on Fifth Avenue. “I haven’t studied it enough yet,” he said.
Meanwhile, de Blasio and everyone else is still waiting for an independent review of the projected cost of the plans, which the library had promised for last fall. But there’s only so long this stalling can go on—this spring, de Blasio will have to make a decision. And now he knows where a significant group of his supporters stand on it: firmly against.
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.