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Famed singer and actress Bette Midler urges Adams to reverse $36M libraries cut in city budget

Jun. 28, 2023 By Ethan Stark-Miller

Legendary singer and actress Bette Midler has sent a letter to Mayor Eric Adams urging him to reverse $36.2 million in cuts to the city’s three public library systems in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which must be passed by the City Council before midnight on Friday.

Midler, the singer of chart-toppers such as “Wind Beneath My Wings,” said in the missive that she “does not envy” Hizzoner’s position of having to make “difficult choices” in balancing the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year. But she pleaded with Adams to spare the city’s three public library systems — the New York, Brooklyn and Queens Public Libraries — from significant cuts he plans to make to the purveyors of free books and public programming.

“I know you are busy negotiating the FY24 city budget, a job I do not envy,” Midler wrote in the letter, shared exclusively with amNewYork Metro. 

“We are at such an important point in our history, and I know that difficult choices must be made,” she continued. “I also know that your administration is considering a $36.2 million budget cut for public libraries. Respectfully, I ask you to reconsider this proposed cut.”

A spokesperson for Midler confirmed the letter was sent to City Hall.

The letter comes as the mayor is currently in the thick of negotiations with City Council leaders over his nearly $107 billion proposed executive spending plan, released in April, which included across-the-board cuts to city agencies. Adams has taken the cost-saving measures in the name of fiscal responsibility, citing growing outyear budget gaps due to the mounting cost of the asylum-seeker influx and a potential economic downturn on the horizon.

That plan spared the three public libraries from an additional 4% cut, the mayor asked most agency heads to make at the beginning of April, but didn’t reverse previous rounds of spending reductions — amounting to the $36.2 million.

Library leaders have repeatedly said the mayor’s budget trims would drive the three systems to a “breaking point,” where they would be forced to reduce weekend hours and shutdown Sunday service altogether due to reduced staffing.

“Without the restoration of funding, we will be forced to make permanent reductions in staffing that lead to reduced hours and days of service, less programming and decreased spending on collection,” Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson said at a City Council hearing last month.

In her letter, Midler said she understands the city’s precarious fiscal situation, but argued libraries make up only 0.4% of city spending. Furthermore, she said the systems are worth the investment, as the free programming they provide offers a “lifeline” to many communities throughout the city.

“It is without question that the city is facing challenges. However, our libraries, which account for only 0.4% of the budget, are uniquely positioned to help us face these challenges head on,” Midler wrote. “From story times for toddlers to music programs for seniors—and everything in between — public libraries are a lifeline for our communities. Unfortunately, these cuts will force libraries to curtail their hours, and even close branches on weekends throughout the city. We can’t afford to lose library services right now.”

A mayoral spokesperson, in a statement in response to the letter, pointed to the mayor’s move to spare the libraries from the latest round of cuts and said the administration has been working with the council to “evaluate if adjustments can be” in the budget. The proposed operating budget for the libraries is $431 million, which factors in the cuts.

“Mayor Adams appreciates Ms. Midler’s commitment to our libraries and our city as a whole,” they said. “All three public library systems were exempted from the January and April savings programs. We are always looking for ways to ensure these vital institutions can continue fulfilling their mission and – well before this letter was sent – have been working with [the] City Council to evaluate if adjustments can be made through the budget process.”

The news site Gothamist, citing two unnamed sources, reported Wednesday afternoon that public libraries are likely to see their funding fully restored in the forthcoming city budget.

Midler is hardly the only celebrity urging the mayor to reverse the library cuts as the city budget inches ever closer to being finalized.

Sarah Jessica Parker, the star of TV shows like “Sex and the City” and “And Just Like That..,” took to Instagram earlier this month to call for restoring library funding — in a post that tagged both accounts for both the mayor and City Council. Other high-profile figures like actor Ethan Hawke and Chelsea Clinton — the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—have also called for the proposed cuts to be restored.

“Our dear public libraries are facing a potential massive cut that would have devastating effects on our communities,” Parker wrote in the post. “Libraries are, for so many, shelter, comfort, a quiet place to learn, grow and meet our neighbors. Help us stop these cuts and save our libraries.”

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