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It was labeled by officials at City Hall as a "good news" budget. Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s new budget announced last week showed a $2 billion surplus. There was $65 million for a private cultural institution, the Museum of Modern Art. And there was $600 million from a commercial rent tax to buy new ballparks for the Yankees and the Mets.
But two groups found a budget not as "good" to them. The Mayor announced he was slashing $20 million from the cultural affairs department and $16 million from the City’s three library systems. In Queens, the news that $4 million of these cuts would be taken from the Queens Borough Public Library brought angry reactions from library users (see page 34) and from local public officials.
"At a time when our libraries are strained by the heavy demand for services by people of every age and every community, the Mayor has embarked on a plan which will have a devastating impact on the people of Queens," said Councilmember Walter McCaffrey of Woodside.
The call for a cut in services at the libraries was emphasized by Giuliani at a press conference on Tuesday at City Hall where he angrily assailed the library system as "inefficient" and said they are "acting like a special interest group, running around threatening to cut hours." Giuliani indicated that future funding might be in jeopardy if changes are not made. He said that the various library systems need to be "more efficient" and that he would rather see "ten people doing work than 20 people wasting a lot of time." He called for the libraries to set up private foundations to get financial support directly form their respective communities. "They need to reorganize to enter the 21st century" and added that he would not reconsider his proposed cuts to the library funding.
"What they need to do is work harder and work longer hours," Giuliani said. "They do this — threaten to close branches every year to every Mayor. They threaten to hold their breath. But I’m not going to give into them," he added.
McCaffrey responded that "The effect of library cuts will mean reduced hours at branches, "closed days," elimination of new book purchases and fewer special services such as children’s programs and English-as-a-Second-Language courses. "While the library systems should seek funding from private sources, it is foolish to provoke a crisis in services to make a point," McCaffrey said. He added that he was confident that Council Speaker Peter Vallone and the City Council will restore the critical funding for the library "and prevent the Mayor’s scheme from ever passing."
On Tuesday The Queens Courier questioned what report or study or investigation the Mayor’s office conducted or relied upon to make the judgment that the libraries were "inefficient." The Queens Courier also asked a top mayoral aide what specifically was wrong with the Queens Borough Public Library that justified the cutbacks. By deadline Wednesday the paper had gotten no answer, however at a Town Hall meeting in Bayside Wednesday evening, a Queens Courier intern got up to ask the questions directly to the Mayor. Giuliani said that the libraries are not doing enough to bring in new technologies and they are using library monies to go on trips. He told the intern reporter that if he is so interested in the library he should get together some of his fellow students and help raise money for the libraries.
As of presstime, the Queens Borough Public Library had no official reaction to the Mayor’s proposed cuts
but off-the-record some library officials said that they were fearful of angering the Mayor and were pretty confident that the City Council would prevent the cuts. The Queens Courier learned also that the library is planning a large postcard campaign next week to the Mayor and the council to protest the cuts.
Sources at City Hall said that it is a power play by the Mayor to gain more control of a system that is quasi-public and over which he has little direct control. They also indicated that the Mayor might want a consolidation of the three systems — the New York Public Library (serving Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island), the Brooklyn Public Library and the 100-year-old Queens Library. "You know, there are three public relations departments, three fundraising operations, etc. You could streamline the whole thing by having only one system" presumably answerable to the Mayor, the source said.
The Queens Library, the largest circulation library in the country, is governed by a Board of nineteen trustees (half appointed each by the Mayor and Borough President) and representatives of the Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate and Borough President.
The fact that the whole library controversy really boils down to political gamesmanship was underscored by Councilman Archie Spigner of St. Albans who said "Cutting libraries and culture is a ritualistic maneuver between the Mayor and the Council. In my 25 years on the Council it has always been that way, whether it was a Democratic or Republican mayor. The Mayor proposes the reduction and the Council makes restitution. It’s the reality of politics and I don’t think the Mayor’s serious." Finance Chairman of the Council, Herbert Berman, said that he thought it was "an unfortunate and very misguided annual dance that causes unnecessary heartache to the public and to low-paid employees in the arts and library worlds." Queens Borough President Claire Shulman agreed and added that "We are about to open the new Flushing Library, the circulation in the system has gone through the roof for the fourth year in a row with 15 1/2 million items circulated last year and all of the other services for our multi-ethnic population mean the library is extremely important to Queens. I’m confident the Council will rescind the cuts when the budget is passed."
(Tamara Hartman and Danny Kent contributed to this report.)

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