Press Release: Ralph Nader Asks Mayor Gray to Appoint Citizens Task Force on MLK

November 18, 2011
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Ralph Nader Asks Mayor Gray to Appoint Citizens Task Force on MLK

Washington, DC — Ralph Nader and Robin Diener of the Library Renaissance Project have asked Mayor Gray to appoint a Citizens Task Force on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, in a letter of November 16.  The Project has been calling for a citizen-based look at possibilities for the central library since 2006 after legislation to sell MLK backed by then-Mayor Anthony Williams was defeated. 

The renewed call for a citizen task force is particularly timely since Library officials, who have repeatedly rejected the suggestion as “premature,” have now out of the blue commissioned a study of the MLK Library by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).  The ULI will release a full report in 60 days but made public its preliminary findings today:

The ULI study has come under fire for having no local residents on its panel, for being costly ($120,000) at a time when the city was scraping bottom to find the $318,00 needed to keep MLK open on Sundays, and for being biased towards a predetermined outcome.

Text of letter follows:

The Honorable Vincent Gray
Mayor, District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20004

November 16, 2011

Dear Mayor Gray:

Library Trustees President John Hill recently announced the recruitment of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to “assess” the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building.

Unlike the American Institute of Architects Urban Design Committee study of MLK in 2000 performed pro-bono, ULI is charging the Library $120,000 for its study. Just a month ago, we were searching for $318,000 to keep MLK open on Sundays.

Further, we learned that no District residents will be seated on the panel. While we might understand having “fresh eyes on” the situation, we don’t accept the disenfranchisement of residents and library users from assessing the “value” of their central library building.

In 2005, District citizens and their representatives, including you, rejected legislation to dispose of the MLK building. Ever since, our organization and others have called for a Citizen Task Force on the Future of MLK to plan and fundraise for a renewed central library.  Library officials have repeatedly rejected this idea as “premature.”

Now, out of the blue, Library officials say a new “review” is needed.  If so, it should be delivered to a Citizen Task Force as part of comprehensive planning for the remainder of the library system — including MLK.  The library system, a ready-made network of “town halls” throughout the city, is ideally suited to gathering input.

Five years into the “Transformation” of the DC Public Library system, much has been accomplished. Let us now take the opportunity to evaluate the transformation and plan the renewal of the remainder of the system, including MLK central library.

We call upon you, Mr. Mayor, to appoint and convene The Citizen Task Force on MLK that, among other things, would consider any ULI findings or recommendations.


Ralph Nader, Founder                                      Robin Diener, Director