Ban On Use Of Public Library By Public Official Raises Concern
Just inside the front door of the Franklin Square Public Library there is a rack brimming with brochures. Some promote reading programs and library activities. Others provide information about government initiatives and community events. [There were even glossy flyers, with photos of the Town Supervisor and her Batmobile, encouraging visitors to the Library to come to the Town's Family Festival By The Sea.]
One brouchure in particular, promulgated by the Nassau County Library system, caught the eye. It was entitled, Libraries Open Doors. We wonder whether the Trustees of the Franklin Square Public Library have ever read this piece, taken note of its title, or pondered the plain meaning of these words - Libraries Open Doors. Frankly, we wonder whether the Franklin Square Library Trustees have ever stumbled upon - let alone glanced at - another document, seldom referenced these days, that might also be found in the Library - the Constitution of the United States of America.
On Thursday, September 15th, the doors to the Franklin Square Public Library may have been open to the public, but they certainly were not open to one public official who had been invited and scheduled to speak there - the Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, Harvey Levinson.
Mr. Levinson had been invited by the Franklin Square Public Library - as libraries do - to hold a forum on reassessment and the County's complex tax structure. No shocker here. Public officials are routinely invited to speak - to inform and impart information - on a regular basis. Indeed, just a month ago, Don Clavin, Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes, had been invited to speak at the Franklin Square Public Library on "tax-related" topics, and he did so on August 3rd.
About a week before his scheduled appearence, Mr. Levinson was informed by the Director of the Franklin Square Library, Carol Aherns, that the invitation to speak had been, at the insistence of the Library's Trustees, rescinded. Too political. After all, Mr. Levinson is a candidate for public office, challenging Hempstead Town Supervisor, Kate Murray, in the November election. [We are reminded that Don Clavin, too, is a candidate, seeking to unseat the Nassau County Comptroller, Howard Weitzman. No politics in his appearance, we surmise!]
Mr. Levinson, in a letter to the Library Director, informed the Trustees [among them, a certain Republican Committeeman, Thomas Scanlon, and a GOP loyalist/activist, Dr. Paul Van Wie] that he was invited to speak in his official capacity, and that he intended to appear at the Franklin Square Library on September 15th, as scheduled. No word back from either the Director or any of the sitting Trustees.
On the evening of September 15th, callers to the Franklin Square Library inquiring about Mr. Levinson's appearance were told that the forum had been cancelled - by Levinson. Upon arrival at the Library, residents were greeted by a sign which gave notice of the scheduled forum, over which was superimposed the word POSTPONED. The clerk behind the check-out desk told visitiors that the forum had been put off until after Election Day - at Mr. Levinson's request. [The Library's Summer Newsletter, providing a listing of all events, gave detail of both the Clavin and Levinson forums, the former on August 3rd, the latter on September 15th. A large "X" covered the space where the Levinson notice appeared.]
There were somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 people gathered at the Library - some to hear Mr. Levinson on the reassessment and its ramifications, others to support his right, as a public official, to speak, at a public forum, in a public facility, to which he had been invited.
Harvey Levinson arrived at the Franklin Square Public Library, prepared to go forward with the forum, to answer residents' questions, and to fulfill what is clearly part of his function as a public official. He never got to do this.
Blocking the door to the empty community room, the Librarian told Mr. Levinson, and the residents gathered around him, that he could not speak. The community room could not be used by him. He was, essentially, "uninvited" to and unwelcome at the Franklin Square Public Library. When asked" Why?," The Librarian responded, "These are my instructions from the Library Director." [Ah, "Just following orders." Where have we heard that before?]
As the Librarian stood firm before the door to the community room, the crowd anxious to get through, the voice of then Alabama Governor George Wallace on the steps of the Capitol in Montgomery in 1963, shouting, "segregation today... segregation tomorrow... segregation forever," reverberated in the head. Why, one could almost envision Republican Party Chair, Joe Mondello, standing in front of the Library community room - as if at the doors to the schoolhouse in Selma - arms folded at his chest, a Nassau County cop at his side, proudly proclaiming, "GOP today... GOP tomorrow... GOP forever...," as Mr. Levinson was ushered out the door.
Of course, we are not in Alabama in the early 60s. This is Long Island, New York nearly half a century later. And Harvey Levinson was not held at bay at the steps of the Franklin Square Library because of the color of his skin - or even by reason of his Jewish heritage. [No, the Mondello Machine has other methods of madness, disenfranchising Jews of their right to vote by holding Sanitary District elections on the Sabbath!]
Levinson's purge from the Franklin Square Public Library was not prompted by his expressed views on the property tax or his outrage over illegal apartments. Harvey Levinson was banned - at the directive of the powers-that-be at the Nassau County GOP (and let them deny it) - simply because he has the audacity to take on the Machine, and to challenge the incumbent Supervisor of the Town of Hempstead. Talk about desperation!
Attempts to stifle speech, to oppress the political opposition, to demonize those who threaten to upset the agenda, and to remove those who would expose the evils of tyranny and undermine the final solution, are nothing new. The Fascists wore their brown shirts with Swastikas on their sleeves. A County GOP Committeeman and a known Republican Party activist, who usurped and abused the powers bestowed upon them as Library Trustees, wear their good cloth coats with smiles on their faces. Scoff at the analogy. It is not made lightly. The warning signs must not be ignored now, as they were then. The measure of good government cannot, and must not, be taken by implication of either high Bond ratings or the fact that its leaders made the trains run on time.
Everyone - including good and decent Republicans (perhaps especially so) - should be outraged and incensed over what happened (and didn't happen) at the Franklin Square Library on the evening of September 15th. Not one among us should stand silent in the face of this dastardly assault on democracy - this blatant affront to fundamental, Constitutionally protected freedoms.
Harvey Levinson was silenced last night in Franklin Square. He did not stand alone then, and he must not stand alone now. This is not Nazi Germany in 1939. [What next? A burning of all books on democracy at the Franklin Square Library?] This is America, 2005! Let's speak out for the freedoms we so cherish, and for what we know to be fair, just and right. Let us not remain silent in the face of a foe that, under color of rightful authority, threatens to strip us of both liberty and dignity.
Register your indignation TODAY!
Write to the Director and Trustees of the Franklin Square Public Library [Carol Aherns, Director; Patricia L. Galaskas, Rev. Frederick L. McElderry, Thomas Scanlon, Dr. Paul Van Wie and William Youngfert, Trustees] at 19 Lincoln Road, Franklin Square, NY 11010 (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
Send a Letter to the Editor at Newsday (email@example.com), to the Elmont/Franklin Square Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Elmont Herald (email@example.com), the Malverne/West Hempstead Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Franklin Square Bulletin (fax: 516-775-7605), the Three Village Times (email@example.com) and other local media outlets.
Discuss what happened in Franklin Square with your friends, your family and your co-workers. Talk about this at your church, synagogue, Kiwanis and Rotary. Take this to the soccer field, PTA meeting and senior club. It is that important!
Then, on Tuesday, November 8th, send a message, loud and clear, to the infamous Mondello Machine - Democracy today... Democracy tomorrow... Democracy forever!