Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Surreal Life At The Franklin Square Library

Party Loyalists Descend On Public Library ~ Many, No Doubt, For The First Time

"So THIS is what the inside of the Franklin Square Public Library looks like?"

We truly expected to hear these words out of the mouths of at least a few of the nearly 100 Machine-tooled operatives who came out, at the evident call of the Republican party leadership, to support the Franklin Square Library Board's decision to bar a public official - a member of the Democratic Party - from conducting a public forum in a public place.

The irony was apparently lost on these folks when they protested, most vocally, the sin of electioneering and politicking at a public forum by, well, electioneering and politicking at, ah, a public forum. [They couldn't well say they were against free speech, could they?] Indeed, the political ploy was as transparent as the GOP's glass house from which they readily cast stones at the outside world.

Query whether some of those in attendance - who, quite likely, never before attended a Library Board meeting - knew exactly why they had been summoned to the Franklin Square Library. The call comes in, and they march lock-step. Good soldiers all!

If the subject matter - free speech, the right to peaceably assemble, the ban of an elected public official at a publicly funded facility - wasn't so serious, the scene at the Franklin Square Library might have been comical.

Okay. It was comical. Even the members of the press rolled eyes when the usual suspects from the GOP camp rose to dapperly defend Don Clavin's (Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes and Republican candidate for Nassau County Comptroller) non-partisan dissemination of information, while demonizing the dastardly doings of Harvey Levinson (Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors and Democratic candidate for Town of Hempstead Supervisor), whose forums on the reassessment held at libraries around the County were summarily characterized as little more than political infomercials.

About the only thing missing from this bizzare burlesque show was an appearance by Greg Peterson, complaining that Harvey Levinson let the paint peel off the wall at the Assessor's office. Ah, but who needed Greg - or Kate, for that matter, as she would surely have "no control" over the Library Board's decision - when you have an ill-informed cadre at the ready to agitate, to instigate and to regurgitate what has become the platfrom of the Nassau County GOP -- "If we can't talk about the issues with clarity and resolve, we just won't let the opposition get a word in edge-wise!"

As humorous, in a sad-sack way, as the Machine's automitons could make of this event - and they were laughable, indeed - the most poignant moments of the evening came when members of a local Jewish Center, some who had survived the Holocaust, rose to speak. Softly, without the boisterous overtures of the planted hecklers to drown them out, they spoke not so much about Harvey Levinson's forums on the reassessment and their need to know, but rather, on the rights of all public officials, indeed, all people, to speak and to be heard. There was no mention, per se, of political suppression or the tyranny of the majority, but the message came through all the same - loud and clear.

Perhaps the best line of the evening came from Franklin Square resident Jerry Urick. Urick, the President of Franklin Square Kiwanis, a former law enforcement official, and, as he told those gathered in the packed community room, a registered Republican, scanned the crowd. Recognizing the faces as party regulars, many known to him personally, Urick stood deadpan and said, "This looks to me like roll call at Sanitary District 6!" Jeers followed. "That's not true," came an adamant shout.

All right. Sanitary 2. [Did anyone count the cars in the municipal lot across the street from the library bearing the word "Official" on their plates, or inquire why so many of these vehicles were being utilized after regular business hours? No worries here. No time sheets are kept. And we've got you covered for gas...]

Seth Bykofsky, the Co-Chair of The Community Alliance (and no stranger to Franklin Square residents), briefly addressed the Library's Board of Trustees, asking the Board to trust in the prowess of the people who attend public forums such as the one that Harvey Levinson had planned to hold. "All of us here - Democrats, Republicans, Independents - are capable of discerning information imparted to us as either for the public benefit or as political self-promotion. Give us the benefit of the doubt, and believe that we are smart enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let the people speak!"

We will say, the evening spent at the Franklin Square Public Library can best be summed up by the exchange between Don Clavin and Harvey Levinson as they made their way out of the building. Clavin berated Levinson for saying that one of the Library Board's members (Thomas Scanlon) IS a Republican Committeeman. Levinson retorted, "What, did he resign as a Committeeman a week ago?" Clavin shot back. "Come on, Harvey. We're both lawyers. You know if we were before a judge that would never hold up."

Ah. The hair-splitting distinction between IS today and WAS yesterday. That may indeed hold up in a court of law, Don, but in the court of public opinion, where the mere appearance of the impropriety (taking into consideration the abundant circumstancial evidence) may be much worse than the actual deed, it was, is, and hopefully will be, more than enough to sway the jury.


  1. Had the Library just let Levinson speak, about 15 people would have showed up, no one would have even noticed, and the whole thing would have been a complete non-issue. By barring Mr. Levinson, the Library (and by extension the Republicans) have given the Assessor more free press than he could have imagined he would ever want. It speaks volumes of how politically unsavvy the Republicans have become in Nassau County. They have made a mountain out of a molehill.

    Newsday, the New York Times, and other local papers were all present at the Library last night. There was a story in Newsday today and there will be one in the Sunday Times most likely and more stories in the locals. The papers will portray Mr. Levinson as the "good guy" while the Library and their Republican cohorts are the "bad guy." The perception will be that the Library and the Republicans are opposed to free speech and open, transparent government.

    It also shows how seriously the Republicans are taking this challenge from Mr. Levinson. Bringing in Mr. Clavin to attend demonstrates the Republicans are worried that they might lose this race. If this had happened 10 or 15 years ago when the Republicans were the end-all and be-all of Nassau politics, do you think they would have even bothered to send one person (in Franklin Square no less!!)?

  2. I was at the Library in Franklin Square for the Board meeting last night. Talk about theater of the absurd!

    I believe the Library Board was sincere in trying to keep politics out of public forums, although clearly misguided in the way they arbitrarily canceled a speaker from one party while allowing someone from another party to speak just weeks before.

    If you have no set policy - which is the case in Franklin Square - create one. Then make it a matter of public record, and apply it next year. The way the Library Board went about this, whatever their intentions may have been (and I take them at their word that the intentions were honorable), the wrong way. Both Levinson and the residents of Franklin Square were done a serious injustice.

    As for the hecklers -- any place else they would have been bussed in as troublemakers. Here, all they had to do was to drive over to the library in their Town-provided vehicles (I saw one Sanitary District Supervisor in his Sanitary 6 SUV) to lend their voices to the charade.

    They make their mindless noise, and its all at our expense. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these guys were on the clock while at the Franklin Square library for a Board meeting.

    Shame on us if we let them get away with it!

  3. let's go so far as to say that Harvey Levinson's talk would have been considered better suited for the campaign stump. So what? If an attendee didn't like what he was hearing, he could get up and leave.

    The GOP has no problem "campaigning" at the library. Kate Murray's literature - which is all electioneering, all the time - is inside the library for the taking.

    I thought the Sedition Act had been appealed. Apparently, this fact escapes the County/Town GOP, who believe that any speech that may hold them in a bad light - let alone contempt - is prohibited!

    I agree with The Community Alliance, and with like-minded citizens everywhere. On November 8th, we have to go to the polls and be heard over these GOP Neanderthals - "Democracy today. Democracy tomorrow. Democracy forever!"

    Meanwhile, bring on the Sanitary District 6 Audit Report. I'm curious to see how many turkeys WE bought for those fellas.

  4. To sick in sanitary 6: On behalf of ALL good and decent Neanderthals, I must protest your disparging remarks. Using "GOP" and "Neanderthal" in the same sentence is an unconscionable slap in the femur.

    We evolved into homo sapiens long ago. The Nassau County GOP, on the other hand, well...

    I know Joe Mondello. And believe me, Joe Mondello is no Neanderthal. Two-headed sloth, perhaps, but certainly no Neanderthal.

  5. To Neanderthal: Sorry. I didn't know you guys were still around! LOL