In phone interviews that lasted over an hour apiece, we spoke with both candidates who are vying for a position of Great Neck Library Trustee to fill the vacancy left by retiring board member, Alice Nayer.
Interestingly, both candidates in their discussions of how each would contribute to resolving contentious library issues, evoked the days of the civil rights struggle in the '60s. Marsha Vinson Rotman says she was involved in public relations as a student at Johns Hopkins after the Martin Luther King riots broke out and was commended by the Red Cross for her work. Martin Sokol said that as a businessman involved in the leather business, he worked regularly, successfully and without negative incidents as a Jewish man in the South during that era. Both see themselves as consensus builders. Both are running as independent candidates.
Marsha Vinson Rotman
Ms. Vinson Rotman says that she has always loved libraries, working as a student volunteer when the library was on Arrandale Avenue. Two librarians there played an important role in her life as mentors. In fact, she considered becoming a law librarian, but opted eventually on obtaining her law degree.
From her positive experiences as a library patron, she says that she felt disheartened by the negative publicity swirling around the Great Neck library today. It is her intention to correct what she believes to be misperceptions about the issues.
Although she was a member of the Ad Hoc committee that made specific recommendations about the needs and priorities that would need to be addressed in any building project, she says that she did not support any one plan. She believes that the three conceptual plans are not relevant any more.
Ms. Vinson Rotman says that while she respects the current board members "tremendously in trying to come up with a resolution despite the obstacles, they may not be aware of changes in the community. That's a concern...you can't make decisions in a vacuum." She sees her role on the board, if elected, as trying to develop a mandate from a diverse population.
When we asked how she saw herself representing diverse groups in the community, Ms. Vinson Rotman said that her participation as a parent member on the Committee on Special Education has given her an opportunity to meet many parents from many different ethnic groups in the community. She says that the work involves collaborating with families to work out academic problems within budgetary constraints. Further, she says she has been instrumental in having library information translated into different languages to allow for more inclusion.
Although she does not have positions on certain issues, she says that she is supportive of getting the library to be accessible to handicapped people.
In addition, she believes that Levels should have a dedicated space. "The group that supports Levels will fight on this and they're very well organized." One of her daughters participated in a play once at Levels and found it to be a good experience. "We don't have a Y in town and it fills a void."
She is also strongly opposed to keeping the library open during construction. From a standpoint of health and safety, she believes that there could be negative health consequences from airborne particles that would be disturbed. During a renovation at Kennedy School, she says she became involved in opposing the renovation during school hours. "It is very costly to seal off areas." She thinks that after a plan is approved with public support, then the public decides what is prudent in regard to closure.
Ms. Vinson Rotman says that in talking with a broad base of people, she understands that they do not want to see the library closed for two years.
In regard to her opponent, she believes that his primary involvement in community affairs has been non-sectarian which she thinks is not a broad enough experience to bring to bear.
She says, "I'm an optimist and I want to get more people involved." Further, she believes that her candidacy has already had benefits because she has been encouraging people to get involved in the library. She also thinks that the library is about more than expansion and renovation and that it is time to reinforce the work of the library in its excellent staff and programming.
Mr. Sokol decided to run for the library board because he is public- spirited and now has the time to devote to such an endeavor. "Ten years ago I was too involved in traveling for business, but now my son and daughter are running the day to day aspects of the company." Mr. Sokol says that the business is the oldest leather company left in New York. He also has real estate holdings in the New York area.
He became interested in the library expansion plans when he viewed the model on display at Main. He says, "The first thing that hit me was that here we are with a major expansion and no additional parking and from a practical point of view that didn't seem to add up." He also thought that from an architectural perspective that the addition, a mostly glass crescent, looked "added on." He felt it did not conform to the area. He says, "It's not that I'm opposed to spending money on the library, but I believe in getting value for your money." He felt the plan was lacking in that regard.
He says, "You have more builders and developers in Great Neck than you have blades of grass...I believe that many of them would be willing to serve as unpaid advisors to help develop a workable plan."
Mr. Sokol believes that he could interject a tone of civility to the board's determinations. He said that recently he attended a building committee meeting. He says, "I felt sad to watch it because it quickly became so adversarial...I believe that people should be able to express minority opinions." He believes that he could help keep people focused and draw ideas out in open communication.
He thinks that it is "time to get realistic and explore a more modest expansion." Mr. Sokol thinks that some services might be moved to another location and that there might be innovative ways to get more natural light into the ground floor level and relocate some services there.
"In the end, there will have to be compromises," he says. "Compromise leads to progress, but stubbornness leads to a stalemate...we have been discussing renovating the library for 12 years...and the public is weary of it."
According to Mr. Sokol, the trustees must reach consensus on an approach and then the "mayors must be brought under the tent." He went on to say that "We don't want shades of the south shore here."
We then questioned him further about a rumor that his interest in the position was to limit spending in public arenas because of his religious beliefs. Mr. Sokol was glad to confront the rumor face-on. He said, "I understand the fear, but I can assure you that I believe that communities that reject their school budgets, park budgets and library budgets are voting down their communities...I never want to see Great Neck become Cedarhurst."
He says that he was raised with a background for tolerance and that it is always important to find common denominators when there is conflict. He pointed out that he was instrumental in forming the Synagogue Council of Great Neck.
Regarding Levels he said that he had spoken with many high school teachers to gain a better understanding of the program and that he received a resounding endorsement of its value. He said, "If I am elected, I would be a true and sincere friend to Levels."