In the forefront of the stripped classical architecture of Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, and with his hand firmly on a Bible, Donovan Richards, Jr. was ceremoniously inaugurated this past Friday, December 31. It is within these walls that the Queens Borough President centers the operates of civic life for all of Queens.

“It is a great honor to have the opportunity to continue serving the 2.4 million residents of the Borough of Queens,” said Borough President Richards. “I know a great deal of trust and faith has been placed in me to lead our Borough as it seeks to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and enjoy a brighter future. With the help and support of the people of Queens, we will make sure a brighter future is ahead.”

The swearing-in provides Queens with a permanent borough president for a full term of four years, as the borders of Queens will not change when a redistricting plan is finalized.

Guests to the formality were limited to the Borough President’s wife, Tameeka, and their son, Donovan III. Also in attendance was newly appointed Queens Deputy Borough President Ebony Young.

Other attendees included Richards’ new Chief of Staff Michael Mallon, and Richards’ mother and mother-in-law. Shimi Pelman, District Leader for the 27th Assembly District, was the final attendee, whom the Borough President refers to as his rabbi. “I have long been available to the Borough President to offer advice and guidance on non-rabbinic matters pertaining to the Jewish community,” explained Pelman. “I am deeply appreciative for the Borough President’s invite and friendship. His acknowledgement of the Jewish community is noticed and lauded.” Pelman’s attendance at the Friday ceremony further solidifies Richard’s familiarity with the needs of a vast and growing Jewish community of Queens.

Originally scheduled for a Sunday afternoon ceremony on January 13 at the Atrium at York College, Richards changed plans due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Richards was first elected to the position with over 65% of the vote in a special election on November 3, 2020, filling out the remainder of now District Attorney Melinda Katz’s term as Borough President. Richards made history as the first Black man to serve in this elected position.

Recently, Richards spoke with the Queens Jewish Link on his outlook for Queens.

Since assuming the position, Richards has led the effort to revitalize Queens and make it a borough that works for all its residents and workers. Over the past number of months, Richards has rapidly expanding access to the COVID-19 vaccine, including opening Citi Field as a distribution site; hosted food distribution events around the borough; modernized the Community Board process with online applications, resulting in a record 56% increase in responses; continued to make Queens an affordable place to live by breaking ground on hundreds of new units of real affordable housing; and prepared Queens for a safe, clean, and sustainable future by empowering the Queens Solid Waste Advisory Board to work on environmental justice initiatives.

Borough President Richards will remain a resource in the months and years ahead as we emerge from the pandemic. “Within the Borough President’s office, we created a resource center for business owners to get information on how to obtain financial assistance like PPP loans to make it through the pandemic,” explained Richards on his recovery efforts. “I was also able to partner with New York Mets owner Steve Cohen to bring in $17.5 million in grants for small businesses that have been struggling, which has been immensely helpful. We will continue to look for opportunities to make sure our small businesses can stay open and that new ones will be welcomed here in Queens. That includes our office helping to promote new and existing small businesses and hosting educational workshops so that owners know the best practices to be successful.”

Richards has taken the concerns of the Jewish community on his shoulders. Under his leadership, a sukkah was erected at Borough Hall for the first time. On this accomplishment, Richards noted, “Unity is so important to me in Queens, and that means making sure that every community is represented at Borough Hall. Hosting more multicultural events at Borough Hall was something I campaigned on in 2020, and I want to continue hosting events like this, because I believe they will help to remove ignorance and hate that have led to the hate that we see.”

Prior to the pandemic, anti-Semitism was on the rise, and Richards chose his first press conference on the steps of Queens Borough Hall to address this issue. Hate against Jews, amongst hate for the mosaic of nationalities and religions in our midst, has been a prevailing difficulty. “Hate against any group of people in our city is unacceptable, and I’ve been working with community leaders and the NYPD to put a stop to the rise in hate crimes that we’ve seen,” expressed Richards. “I’ve called for more funding for the Police Department to fight this rise, but we must also fund proactive approaches with other agencies that really prevent these hate crimes before they happen.”

On Community Boards, Richards imparted, “Community Board members are so close to what the issues are in their communities, and we need to be encouraging more people to get involved. One of my first actions in office was to create an online application system, which resulted in a 56.5% increase in the number of applicants. With this new system, we’ve been able to bring in more people from different backgrounds so that our community boards also represent the diversity that makes Queens so great.” Community Board membership applications are now being taken to assist in the development of Queens. Forms must be submitted by February 16, 2022, for consideration:

For seven years prior to becoming Borough President, Richards represented Southeast Queens at the City Council in District 31, covering Far Rockaway. Growing up, Richards lived in Jamaica, St. Albans, Hollis, and Rosedale, with frequent visits to his grandparents who lived in the Rockaways, now his current place of residence. Richards has been a community activist since the murder of a close childhood friend propelled him into action, becoming a steadfast advocate for criminal justice reform, serving as Chair of the Committee on Public Safety while in the City Council. In that position, he held numerous hearings on police brutality, treatment of protestors, and negotiated a public disciplinary system for cops who behaved poorly. He has been a tireless advocate for the Special Victims Division. In the City Council, Richards had also been a proponent of closing Rikers Island and legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.

“It’s imperative that we work together to make our streets safer and put an end to the gun violence that we have seen in our city,” expounded Richards. “I’m proud that we’ve broken ground finally on a new precinct in Southeast Queens that will help reduce response times and free up resources that have been overloaded. As we work to make our streets safer, we also have to hold bad actors accountable when misconduct occurs, as creating trust between the police and our communities is so important in the work that we do to lower crime.”

The Borough President can create task forces to address and target certain issues. “Where there are serious issues in our communities, task forces can be an important way of bringing the right people together to find solutions,” stated Richards. “This past year, I formed a new task force to address quality-of-life issues in College Point, made up of local elected officials, community leaders, and agency officials. We’ve had a lot of complaints from residents because of sewer construction that needs to be addressed with a number of stakeholders. I’m confident that we will be able to solve the problems there, and I’ll continue to look at where forming a task force may be the best way to find solutions that work for Queens’ residents.”

Rest assured that there is much work ahead, as Borough President Donovan Richards begins his first full-term at the helm of Queens.

By Shabsie Saphirstein