Donovan Richards was born and raised in Southeast Queens. He received an associate’s degree in Aviation Management from Vaughn College of Aeronautics and went from there to the Academy of Aviation. In March of 2003, after the fatal shooting of his childhood friend in front of his home, Donovan committed to be involved in politics. In 2011, Richards became chief of staff for NYC Councilman James Sanders, Jr., and when Sanders was elected to the New York State Senate, Richards won a 2013 special election to the NYC Council to succeed him, serving a district that includes South Jamaica and Far Rockaway, an office he still holds. During his first term, he secured more than $1.5 billion to help fill the enormous sewer infrastructure problem of flooding in Southeast Queens. In the second half of his term, Richards was at the center of Mayor de Blasio’s push for affordable housing across the city. Donovan has had the benefit of a religious education, at a Christian Academy, a time that he says he will never forget, and this guides his concern with the work he does with the yeshivah school system.
Queens Jewish Link: What are three key issues you would hope to work on as Borough President?
Donovan Richards: Healthcare, food security, and housing. Since the pandemic began, unemployment has at least quadrupled, and food security will become an evolving issue. With the mayor, we expanded the public school kosher food program into our areas. Housing – to bring rental assistance for those in need. I hope to provide quality healthcare regarding COVID -19. We will work to have accessible community testing programs and get through it together. New York City is headed into a $9-billion deficit, and we will have to fight to make sure Queens is not left behind. From Forest Hills to Far Rockaway, we will see that the social services gap is filled, as we work together to rebuild the stalled Queens economy.
QJL: What affiliations do you have with Jewish groups, and how were you helpful to them?
DR: Working to bring the Holocaust Initiative to the Rockaways was one highlight. I increased the budgets of Jewish organizations, especially the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula (JCCRP). I also worked with the various yeshivahs as busing issues arose. Another yeshivah was having a tax issue that we dealt with. Working with City Council Member Chaim Deutsch in passing the Hate Crimes Prevention Bill and the establishment of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes stands out as one of my major accomplishments.
QJL: How do you think you could benefit the Jewish community in the future?
DR: We cannot allow any kind of attacks in our borough. Police accountability is an evolving field and the establishment of hate crimes for CompStat reporting of hate crimes was a huge win, as I worked with Council Member Mark Treyger. This means that individual precincts are further held accountable, as they must report hate crimes to One Police Plaza each month along with other stats that they are delivering.
Young Jewish families have often come to me with worries about the housing market and that it is expensive to live in New York City. I hope to provide access to state and city vouchers in a grandeur program to allow families to stay in their homes and preserve the quality of life they have come to know. Regarding education, I must watch the State from impeding too much. This follows on the work of now former Council Member David Greenfield’s security bill that we have been working to expand, to include more yeshivahs.
QJL: Do you support the State of Israel? Have you ever been there?
DR: I visited the Holy Land of Israel in 2015 and cannot wait to go back. I fell in love with the country. From the food to the wine, it was amazing. Overall, the trip was very spiritual and a great experience. I firmly support Israel and I am strongly against the BDS movement. I maintain a great relationship with the Israeli ambassador.
QJL: In which areas are your base of support and which voters are you hoping to attract?
DR: From the beginning it was clear that the African American and Jewish coalitions will win this race. I have the support of a broad coalition of the Jewish community. My very first endorsement was the tremendous support of former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. This followed with amazing support from prominent names in the Jewish community like Shimmy Pelman, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, and Richard Altabe.
QJL: If the DA’s office will be undergoing Criminal Justice Reform, is there anything that you could do to make that more productive?
DR: We must find a way to bring our police precincts into the 21st century. I believe that the 911 system is overwhelmed and we must find a way to divert calls. The cops are simply called too often, and we as a community are too reliant on the police to respond to what often are nonviolent needs. Additionally, it is possible that each precinct should have a hate crimes unit like the counterterrorism unit. When there is a hate crime, all yeshivahs suddenly get a police car in front. There might be a smarter way to tackle the overall hate crime issue.
QJL: What would you do to improve educational opportunities for minority youth?
DR: $50 million in capital over the last 6 years has been put into the public school system in Queens. We also found resources for the yeshivah system for vocational training programs. I would also want to fund educational programs and science labs, as green technology is certainly the future. When I began my work, computers were scarce in classrooms. Now they are nearly everywhere, and I will work to make sure this is the standard throughout Queens.
QJL: Would you stand in the way of building more charter or private schools?
DR: No, I am a strong believer and supporter of choice as being important. I am against co-locations, because this presents a variety of struggles. Community-led charters are the way to go, and I shy against the big corporation model, but I will work with what is presented to me. I strongly care about all aspects of schooling.
QJL: What would you do to help young people buy homes or to help with the housing shortage in Queens?
DR: Foreclosure assistance has been part of my work in the Council, particularly part of the Foreclosure Prevention Program. I will work to get the First Time Home Buyer Club expanded with more funding. Young people who finally purchase their first home should not be allowed to fall behind in their payments, especially in these critical circumstances we find ourselves in today.
QJL: What could you do to bring more people together politically or philosophically so that different elements of society shouldn’t be as contentious towards each other as we are these days?
DR: There will be more multicultural events on a yearly basis bringing us all together. We will remove the stigmas of ignorance and hate that largely exist because we all simply do not know one another. I would want to assist with funding a welcome center for help and resources at Borough Hall that is for both documented and undocumented residents. It is also a brilliant idea to use some of our community boards as satellite offices and use our 14 community boards to really hear from the people.
By Abe Fuchs