Critics of Mayor Adams are holding him responsible for the $36 million budget cuts that the city’s public libraries are currently facing.
However, some political figures are now directing their criticism towards the library executives themselves, arguing that their salaries are too high for them to not take a pay cut. Recent tax documents, which non-profit organizations must submit annually, reveal that Anthony Marx, the President and CEO of the New York Public Library, earned over $1 million in 2020.
Linda Johnson, the President and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library, earned over $628,000 in the same year, while Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott earned nearly $337,000 in 2021.
It’s not just the executives who are earning high salaries at the public libraries. Upper-level employees are also making six-figure incomes, with some top employees at the New York Public Library earning over $300,000 annually. Geetanjali Gupta, the chief investment officer who oversees a $1.5 billion endowment, is earning more than $1.5 million a year. In comparison, Mayor Adams earns $258,000 per year.
“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.”
These demands have emerged in the days following Mayor Adams and his budget team’s unveiling of a $106.7 billion executive budget, which leaders of the three library systems have criticized for potentially cutting more than $36 million from their budgets.
During his budget announcement, Adams emphasized that his spending plan included his most recent round of austerity measures, also known as Programs to Eliminate the Gap (PEGs), which were initially proposed for libraries last month.
These measures, along with previously announced cost-cutting efforts, would have resulted in more than $52 million being taken from library funds in the future.
Adams’ latest spending proposal does not reverse the previous PEGs imposed on libraries, which would result in a reduction of $36.2 million in the 2024 fiscal year. Councilman Shaun Abreu, a Manhattan Democrat who worked at a public library as a page before, didn’t demand salary cuts like Sheinkopf did, but he did describe the high salaries as “unseemly” given the current budget difficulties.
“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 public library system of the city consists of three different branches, namely the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the Queens Public Library. Since they are non-profit organizations, each system can raise private funds. Although the salaries of many lower-level employees are determined through collective bargaining agreements with the city, executive salaries are not subject to such agreements.
Raymond McGuire, the vice chair of the Board of Trustees of the New York Public Library, pointed out that salaries like Anthony Marx’s are in line with those of institutions of similar size. In fact, tax records show that the CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art receives a comparable amount.
“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.
According to Fritzi Bodenheimer, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Public Library, Linda Johnson’s salary is also privately funded. Meanwhile, Dennis Walcott, the CEO of the Queens Public Library and a former chancellor of the New York City schools, defended his salary and said he has donated nearly $100,000 to the library system over the years.
He believes his salary is well-deserved and a “blessing,” and acknowledges that critics calling for pay cuts could be seen as unfavorable. However, even if such cuts were made, they would not make up for the remaining PEGs, he added.
“We are a very lean organization, and we take our leanness very seriously,” he said. “It’s a very complex job.”
Walcott highlighted that his predecessor, Thomas Galante, used to earn $392,000 annually, which is much higher than Walcott’s current salary. Galante was forced to step down as the CEO of Queens libraries after the Daily News exposed that he had constructed a $27,000 personal deck connected to his executive office for smoking and was also running a lucrative private consulting business while serving as the library 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.”