During the lead-up to the annual library election for trustees this past October, I received an array of phone calls. “Who is this guy?” residents wanted to know. “Why does he have so many signs?” Why does he have ANY signs—library candidates never have lawn signs!”
Rory Lancman had moved to Great Neck only months before he ran for library trustee, and suddenly he was all over the verge.
He moved in like a big city slicker letting the rubes know how it’s done. He had a cadre of strangers knocking on doors and, judging from my unofficial poll, most residents did not welcome a solicitation to vote for someone they had never heard of.
Lancman has a résumé from New York City politics that reads like a treasure hunt. He ran for this, and then that, and then for something else. He seemed a bird in search of a perch or as one person more jaded about politicians put it, a man trying to avoid having a regular job.
Mimi Hu was president of the Great Neck Library board of trustees for the year 2022. It was her fourth year in her four-year term, and she had earned her stripes contending with some folks whose actions portray them as people who want to kill the library.
She had led the library even as one board member, Barry Smith, was party to a lawsuit in which he asked the court to throw out all the other trustees and also remove the library director. The board countersued against the lawsuit in order to safeguard the library, its director, its staff, its reputation.
Along with Weihua Yan, who preceded her as board president, Mimi Hu had steered the board through a series of onslaughts that smeared the library for taking recourse to New York State law rather than giving in. It had been, to say the least, quite a time.
Now, here came this new guy, Lancman, and people wondered why, with his smorgasbord of titled credentials, he had not remained in the city. Mimi Hu accepted him at face value and carried his campaign literature when she and her supporters knocked on doors. She was running for her own seat. He was running to fill a vacancy.
When the vote count was completed (a disrupted process that included a courtroom interlude), Mimi Hu’s voters carried her to victory and carried Lancman along with her.
Then something unexpected happened. Lancman made overtures to the trustees for them to elect him board president as soon as he was seated as a trustee. He was willing to bypass democratic custom and practice.
Lancman’s overreach was unprecedented and it was unacceptable. In casual conversation he seemed to know little about this Great Neck community and ill-prepared to be a trustee of our library, let alone to fulfill the role of president. How could he be counted on to be a guardian of a library if he had not taken the time to first learn about it?
At the reorganization meeting in early January 2023, the first thing Lancman did was to go to take a seat with the board without waiting to be invited. It was a small thing of giant implication.
Trustee Kathy Gold proposed Lancman for president. She honored his greed. It was one of many eye-catching moments in the Lancman grab for a prominent position.
This was not the first time Gold had come up short. Early in her time as a trustee, Gold made a remark that has stayed with me: She said our Great Neck Library spends too much money on books. I wondered if she realized she was saying she wanted to limit the richness our library holds for our residents.
At that reorganization meeting, there was also what appeared to be a quid pro quo (an exchange of favors). After Lancman had been voted president by a consortium of Lancman himself, Gold, Don Panetta, and Barry Smith, the position of treasurer came up for a vote. Mimi Hu and Panetta were nominated. Lancman voted for Panetta: Lancman voted against Mimi Hu, the person who had assured him his seat on the board.
For all to see, Lancman came to light as a chameleon, his loyalty changeable, negotiable. Panetta voted for Lancman for president = Lancman voted for Panetta against Hu.
A remarkable thing about all these interplays is that Lancman as a new trustee deserved no title at all, at least not in a democracy. He was No. 7 of seven, last in line for an elected position. He elbowed ahead, like the bully on the lunch line. By becoming president, Lancman assumed ownership of the board.
The questions are these: What did Lancman promise Smith and Panetta and Gold? Did he tell Gold he would stop defending the library in court (and thereby stop spending that money)? As for Panetta and Smith, they and their cohorts have cost the library a huge sum of our money in their selfish legal adventuring. Did Lancman promise them he would prematurely exit from the library’s countersuit and not seek court costs from Smith, Panetta and company?
The role of a trustee is defined by law, but in light of Lancman’s self-important behavior there is little hope he will confine himself to board business. He acquired a position he did not earn, so what will he do next? Will he try to micromanage the administration of the library itself? Will he interfere inside the library, assign employees tasks and intrude on their work time and their work space? Will he presume to do these things even though he is definitely not supposed to?
Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar