Five people are running for two seats on Great Neck Library’s Board of Trustees in a heated raced in which national culture war issues have been raised over who controls the selection of books and nominees for board seats.
The races have not only been contested in a candidate forum but online and in impassioned letters to the editor.
Voters will go to the polls on Oct. 31 to decide on the two races that many have said will determine the direction of the library district, whose four branches include all of Great Neck and north New Hyde Park.
Current Board President Liman Mimi Hu is running for re-election for her seat on the board against challenger Jessica Hughes. Hu was elected to the board in 2018 in a divisive and active race. Hu has served on the board of directors for the Great Neck Chinese Association and as a member of the Saddle Rock Elementary School’s PTA.
Hu also has her Juris doctorate from New York University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in economics and physics from Wesleyan University. Hu lauded the board’s accomplishments since she joined, including hiring a permanent library director, returning the library to the Nassau Library System and reaching a union contract with staff members.
Hughes, the vice president and associate general counsel at Nationstay Mortgage Company, LLC, received a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Several years later she received her Juris Doctor degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
She has been an executive board member of the E.M. Baker PTO since 2018 and spent time on the Great Neck North Middle School’s PTO and was a Special Education PTA delegate for the school last year. Hughes, during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Manhasset-Port Washington, spoke on the need to amend a “divisive board” and touted the ability to be an open-minded trustee that prioritizes the community it serves.
“That is really what will benefit this board,” Hughes said. “That kind of thinking present at these meetings where there is discord and the ability to take a step back and bring everybody back to the point that is most important, which is how will this conversation further the needs of our community.”
After individuals filed a legal complaint over the way its Board of Trustees filled a board vacancy late last year, the trustees submitted their own complaint claiming they acted within their authority.
Hu acknowledged that the library is in the midst of troubling times right now with pending legal action on both sides, something she is not at liberty to discuss further.
“The library is at a critical juncture where we need stability,” Hu said. “We need someone who has institutional memory to carry out all the progress we have made.”
Rory Lancman, Karen Hirsch-Romero and Christina Rusu are running in an at-large election for the vacant seat on the board.
Lancman, who served as a state Assemblyman representing the 25th District and as a member of the New York City Council, moved to Great Neck last year. He also serves as an alternate on the Village of Great Neck’s Planning Board and was involved with Board of Education Trustee Donna Pierez’s campaign for re-election this year.
Rusu, a Romanian immigrant, is currently a crime analyst with the New York City Police Department. She earned her bachelor of arts in psychology from the Petre Andrei University in Romania before earning her master’s in international crime and justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Hirsch-Romero, who was born and raised in Great Neck, is a former part-time employee of the Nassau Library System. She and her family moved back to Great Neck to prioritize their son’s education, she said.
A lifelong advocate for the importance of libraries, Hirsch-Romero said, being a good listener and progressing the Great Neck’s library system is something she will prioritize doing if elected.
“A Library is so important in a community because it is staffed by information specialists and librarians,” Hirsch-Romero said in a statement. “It is a conduit to a world of breathtaking resources. For adults and children alike the library is a quiet hub of lifelong learning.”
Lancman said finding out ways for people to work together constructively, despite their differences, is something he has endured throughout his prior experiences.
“It’s frustrating to see a board that is struggling to perform the basic function of a board,” Lancman said. “I think with my experience and my background, I can enable the board to move forward in a constructive way.”
Rusu said that, while experience in these situations does matter, there is also a need for a different perspective.
“I also believe that we are quite divided,” she said. “We have to find ways of resolving these issues.”
The candidates also discussed the potential of banning certain books during the forum hosted by the league.
Hu said the placement of certain books is at the discretion of library professionals, but touted the importance of “intellectual freedom” and said she is against banning books.
Hughes said the question did not center around censorship, but rather promoting “divisive and exclusionary” content. Library officials, she said, should also be in tune with what the parental input is so they can best serve their community.
Rusu said coming from a communist country gave her an insight into what censorship is and said she does not believe in banning books.
Lancman also said banning books has “no place” in Great Neck and that no library should be restricting content to individuals because it may make them feel uncomfortable.
Both seats on the board have four-year terms.
Sara Rivka Khodadadian and Kim Schader are running for one seat on the library’s Nominating Committee to fill the seat currently held by Steve M. Jacob. Khodadadian is currently pursuing a bachelor of arts at Touro University while serving as a preschool teacher’s assistant. Schader is a social media consultant with a master of education in higher education administration from Harvard University. She has served as a member of the United Parent Teacher Council’s President Council and a member of the South High PTO’s executive board.
Khodadadian said she has witnessed the roles and responsibilities of the board during various public meetings and wants to provide the library with the right candidates for future board vacancies.
“As a member of the Nominating Committee, I will seek out bright and progressive candidates who will take our library in the right direction,” she said in a statement.
Schader, who lost in last year’s trustee election, lauded the importance of the candidate review process to ensure the best ones are sent by the committee.
“I want to be sure that only the best representatives are given that powerful endorsement,” she said. “The Nominating Committee’s responsibility to screen candidates is significant.”
A proposed measure to eliminate the library’s Nominating Committee last year fell short. Although 526 people voted to eliminate the committee and 391 in favor of keeping it, the vote was below the 67 percent required to pass.
The library election will take place on Oct. 31 from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Residents living north of Northern Boulevard will vote at the Main Library, 159 Bayview Ave., Great Neck 11023. Residents living south of Northern Boulevard will vote at the Parkville Branch, 10 Campbell Street, New Hyde Park 11040.