With NYC library budget cuts looming, some call for trimming executive salaries

·5 min read

Critics of Mayor Adams have blamed him for the $36 million in cuts the city’s public libraries are facing, but some politicos are also starting to point their fingers at those who directly oversee the libraries — and say their salaries are far too generous for them not to take pay cuts themselves.

According to recent tax forms non-profits are required to file annually, Anthony Marx, the president and CEO of the New York Public Library, raked in upwards of $1 million in 2020. Linda Johnson, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library, made more than $628,000 in the same year. And Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott earned nearly $337,000 in 2021.

Those executives aren’t the only public library employees making big bucks either.

Upper echelon staff routinely pull down six figure salaries, with several top employees at the New York Public Library earning more than $300,000 annually, and one, Geetanjali Gupta, its chief investment officer who manages a $1.5 billion endowment, is pulling down more than $1.5 million a year.

In contrast, Adams makes $258,000 as mayor.

“It’s ridiculous,” Hank Sheinkopf, a long-time political consultant, said of the top-shelf library salaries. “This means that people who run the libraries would rather spend $1 million on a salary than keeping the libraries running. That makes no sense.”

Sheinkopf suggested executives should “do the right thing for New York [and] take a pay cut.”

Demands like his are coming days after Adams and his budget team unveiled a $106.7 billion executive budget that leaders of the three library systems have said would, in its current form, cut more than $36 million dollars from their budgets.

During his budget announcement last week, Adams touted the fact that his spending plan set aside his most recent round of austerity measures, which are also known as Programs to Eliminate the Gap, or PEGs, for libraries. Those PEGs, which were rolled out last month, as well as previously announced cost-cutting measures would have removed a total of more than $52 million from library coffers moving forward.

Adams’ current spending plan does not remove previous PEGs from libraries, though. Those cuts amount to $36.2 million for the 2024 fiscal year.

Councilman Shaun Abreu, a Manhattan Democrat who previously worked as a page in a public library, didn’t go as far as Sheinkopf in calling for salary cuts, but described the high pay as “unseemly” in light of the current budget woes.

“Libraries are incredibly important in this city, and this year’s budget should not make any cuts to our libraries whatsoever. However, it is unseemly, to say the least, to have the executives running them pulling in million-dollar salaries while our branches are struggling,” he said.

“The librarian you talk to when you walk into your local branch is probably one of the most service-oriented people you’ll ever meet. Why are we forcing them to do without proper air conditioning or new technology or decent raises when the folks at the top are making 20 times their salary?”

Councilwoman Gale Brewer, a Democrat who also reps Manhattan, is more open to pay cuts.

“Some of the highly paid should certainly take some cuts,” she said. “But I still think the city should restore what they’re taking through the PEGs.”

The city’s public library system is made up of three separate and distinct branches — the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Public Library. As non-profits, each system has the ability to raise private money.

And while many of the salaries for rank-and-file employees are negotiated through labor agreements with the city, executive salaries are not.

Raymond McGuire, vice chair of the New York Public Library’s Board of Trustees, noted that salaries such as that of Anthony Marx are comparable with similarly sized institutions. Indeed, the Metropolitan Museum of Art pays out a comparable amount to its CEO, tax records show.

“These salaries are privately funded and directly comparable to other cultural, non-profit institutions of the Library’s size and scope. A significant amount of the Library’s budget comes from annual fundraising,” McGuire said. “This includes fundraising for the majority of support for its world-class research libraries, as well as some branch funding. There is no way that branch expenses could be covered without critical city funding.”

He added that the city “should do all that it can to adequately fund branches, as they are the cornerstones of neighborhood life for so many New Yorkers.”

“In many instances, they are the sole, vital, safe space,” he noted.

Brooklyn Public Library CEO Linda Johnson’s salary is privately funded as well, according to that system’s spokesperson Fritzi Bodenheimer.

Walcott, the Queens Public Library CEO and former New York City schools chancellor, said that over the years he’s donated close to $100,000 to the library system he runs and that the salary he receives is both deserved and a “blessing.” He said he understands the optics of critics calling for pay cuts, but added that even if such cuts were enacted, they wouldn’t come close to accounting for the remaining PEGs.

“We are a very lean organization, and we take our leanness very seriously,” he said. “It’s a very complex job.”

Walcott pointed out that his predecessor, Thomas Galante, who earned $392,000 a year, made far more than he does now. Galante left as head of Queens libraries after the Daily News revealed he built a $27,000 private deck adjacent to his executive offices so he could smoke and had a lucrative private consulting side while employed as the system’s CEO.

“There have been a number of years where I have not accepted an increase at all,” Walcott said of his pay. “I do take this salary very seriously, and that’s why I always give back to the library in a variety of different ways — and I will continue to do that.”

Aside from the salaries the library systems pay their executives, at least two also have a history of spending on outside lobbyists. According to public records, the Brooklyn Public Library has spent $23,000 this year to employ the lobbying firm Yoswein New York, and the Queens system has spent $3,500 for the services of the Parkside Group over the last year.