The Smithtown library elected three new trustees to its board on...

The Smithtown library elected three new trustees to its board on Tuesday. Voters also approved a $17.4 million budget by 3,012 to 1,132. 

Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Three candidates backed by an LGBT advocacy group's president and Smithtown families won election to the Smithtown library board, months after the library drew national attention for removing Pride material from its children's rooms.

Voters Tuesday also approved a $17.4 million budget by 3,012 to 1,132. 

New trustees Annette Galarza, Mildred Bernstein and Howard Knispel won with 1,819, 1,746 and 1,719 votes, respectively. They defeated JoAnn Lynch, Charles Fisher and Michael Gannon, endorsed by the town Republican and Conservative parties, who received 1,527, 1,486 and 1,462 votes, respectively.

"The community has spoken — they believe that libraries are for the public and resources should be available," Bernstein, a librarian, told Newsday. "They voted in the three candidates who do not believe in censorship."

In Smithtown, where for decades Republicans have held most townwide elected offices, the vote was a rebuke to leaders of the town Republican and Conservative parties, whose decision to endorse in a traditionally nonpartisan race library experts called unusual.

GOP leader Bill Ellis and Conservative leader Gary Forte told Newsday they wanted material including children's books dealing with sexual orientation and making babies removed from the library children's rooms. They deemed that material inappropriate for young people but said they were not anti-LGBT and did not support censorship. Lynch made similar comments at an online Meet the Candidates event sponsored by the League of Women Voters. She and her fellow candidates did not comment.   

The involvement of the parties and the president of the LGBT Network appeared to have been pivotal. 

Among those candidates without their support, the top vote-getter received only 583 votes. 

Bernstein and Knispel, a lawyer, are Democrats, according to voter registration records. Knispel is a member of the town's Democratic committee, which did not endorse candidates. Galarza, a senior project manager for a finance company, is a Republican. Lynch is a Conservative and Fisher is a Republican, according to records; records did not show an affiliation for Gannon. 

In June, a divided library board ordered removal of LGBT Pride books on temporary display in the children's rooms after a trustee said she'd gotten complaints from library patrons. Facing widespread criticism over the removal, the board days later restored the displays and apologized.

That event animated the board race, inspiring some of the 15 candidates to run. 

Library professionals, including the director of the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, the Suffolk County Cooperative System director and the executive director of the New York Library Association, called party involvement troubling.

"Libraries and library workers are dedicated to serving their communities, and these core values should be exhibited by their elected and appointed board members," state association executive director AnnaLee Dragon said in a statement before the election. "While NYLA fully supports community engagement on local boards, political partisanship has no place in our libraries or their leadership."

LGBT Network president David Kilmnick said he had worked with about 100 families over several months, selecting candidates and then turning out voters. Books showing nontraditional families are an important part of the library collection, he said, especially for the children of those families. "To try and take those away is just cruel and wrong." 

Trustee Marie Gergenti, who pushed for Pride display removal, did not run for reelection. She was elected in 2021 with the help of Long Island Loud Majority, a conservative group also active in school board politics. Marilyn Lo Presti, who had also voted for removal of the displays, resigned this fall. Because she resigned too close to the election for voters to choose a replacement, the new board will appoint one.

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