Donovan Richards serves the over 2.2 million residents of Queens as their Borough President. He was overwhelmingly elected with over 65% of the vote in 2020. Donovan made history as the first Black man to serve in this elected position. As Queens Borough President, Donovan is leading the efforts to revitalize our great borough and make it one that works for all of its residents and workers.
Donovan is a lifelong Queens resident who has represented Southeast Queens in the City Council since 2013 in District 31 covering Far Rockaway, Queens. Growing up he lived in Jamaica, St. Albans, Hollis, and Rosedale, with frequent visits to his grandparents who lived in the Rockaways. Richards attended Jamaica High School and Redemption Christian Academy before studying communications, radio, and TV at Nyack College. He later received a degree in Aviation Management from Vaughn College. Today, Richards lives in the Rockaways with his wife and son.
Although in office for only a few months, Donovan’s impact has been immediate. Some of his major accomplishments include:
- Rapidly expanding access to the COVID-19 vaccine, including opening Citi Field as a distribution site
- Securing $17.5 million to help struggling small businesses
- Hosting food distribution events around the borough to help those experiencing food insecurity
- Modernizing the Community Board process with online applications, resulting in a record 56% increase in responses
- Continuing to make Queens an affordable place to live by breaking ground on hundreds of new units of real affordable housing
To help fight climate change, and prepare Queens for a safe, clean, and sustainable future, he has empowered the Queens Solid Waste Advisory Board to work on environmental justice initiatives.
It was tragedy that inspired Donovan to get involved in the fight to end gun violence and advocate for public safety changes in his community. He has been a community activist since the murder of a close childhood friend propelled him into action. Donovan’s pursuit of justice brought him into close contact with elected officials, government agencies, and other leaders. He quickly recognized that as an elected official he could effect change at a greater level by helping to turn progressive policy solutions into reality.
Donovan was elected to the New York City Council in 2013. As a champion for affordable housing, he served as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises during his first City Council term. Donovan used this position to rezone the Rockaways to increase residential availability as well as commercial and community spaces, including a new world-class library. He also served as Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection following SuperStorm Sandy, which devastated many areas of Queens. Through his position he was able to help secure funding for flood protection to protect vulnerable coastal communities.
Donovan is a steadfast advocate for criminal justice reform, most recently serving as Chair of the Committee on Public Safety. In that position, he stood up to the NYPD, holding 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, he has been a proponent of closing Rikers Island and legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.
QJL: Borough President Richards, thank you for taking the time to answers a few questions on our readers minds. Many Queens businesses and livelihoods were decimated from the pandemic; what is your path to our continued recovery?
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. 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.
QJL: You have been an outspoken voice for the Jewish community, most recently being the first Queens Borough President to host an onsite sukkah. How would you continue to advance the voice of the Jewish community?
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.
QJL: Prior to the pandemic, anti-Semitism was on the rise. As QBP you held your first press conference on the steps of Queens Borough Hall addressing this issue. What measures will you take to ensure there is no hate for Jews in Queens?
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. 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 rely prevent these hate crimes before they happen.
QJL: The QBP has influence on appointments to various boards, including community boards. You have proudly changed up these boards. Are there any other ideas you have in mind for Community Boards and how you plan to interact with them?
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.
QJL: What voice will you lend to the law enforcement dialogue?
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. 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.
QJL: Do you plan to create any specific task forces? Are there any currently in place that you would like to highlight?
Where there are serious issues in our communities, task forces can be an important way of bringing the right people together to find solutions. This 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.
QJL: Thank you Borough President Richards for your time. We remind our readers to encourage friends and family to visit early voting sites through Sunday and to vote on Election Day this upcoming Tuesday, November 2. To find your polling site, visit https://findmypollsite.vote.nyc.
By: Shabsie Saphirstein