Donovan Richards creates history in Queens

Former New York City Councilman Donovan Richards was sworn in on Dec. 2 as the first Black man to serve as Queens Borough President in the office’s 122-year-history.

Richards’s swearing-in ceremony took place a day after New York City Board of Elections certified his defeat of Republican Joann Ariola in the November elections.

In the elections, Richards received 518,840 votes to Ariola’s 205,893.

Richards replaces Sharon Lee, who acted as Queens Borough President since January 2020, after erstwhile Queens Borough President Melinda Katz became Queens District Attorney.

On his Facebook page, Richards said on Dec. 2 that he was “honored to have our fierce New York State Attorney General Letitia James swear me in as Queens Borough President.

“I’m ready to fight for all of Queens,” he said.

A day earlier, he posted: “When God is in your corner, you’re good. No evil formed against you will prosper. Keep praying and seeking wisdom even through your imperfections.”

Richards also said in a statement, on Dec. 1, that, “over the last few months, Acting Borough President Sharon Lee has taken on the challenges of this pandemic head on and led Queens with grace through this difficult time.

“Since the election, she has worked hard to ensure a smooth transition and ensure that the Office of Borough President continues to deliver for Queens residents,” he said. “I look forward to building on the foundation she has built to fight food insecurity and ensure that our institutions and residents have access to PPE.

“I thank her again for the great work she has done over the last few months and wish her continued success in the future,” Richards added.

A lifelong resident of Southeast Queens and the Rockaways, Richards was elected to the New York City Council in March 2013, representing the 3st District.

That district comprises portions of ArverneBayswaterBroad ChannelCambria HeightsEdgemereFar RockawayHoward BeachJamaicaJohn F. Kennedy International AirportLaureltonRockaway BeachRosedaleSouth Ozone Park and Springfield Gardens.

During the 2014-2017 session, he was appointed to be the chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, which allowed him to address the decades-old systemic issue of flooding in Southeast Queens.

Richards said he had secured more than $1.5 billion to help fill the enormous sewer infrastructure hole in Southeast Queens.

As he entered the second half of his term, Richards was appointed to be the chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.

He said that opportunity provided him the chance to be at the center of Mayor de Blasio’s push for affordable housing across the city.

Moving forward as the chair of Zoning and Franchises, Richards said he helped negotiate a “stronger, more inclusive affordable housing plan” and made history when the Council passed “the most aggressive affordable housing policy in the nation.”

Since its passage, Richards said he worked to usher in rezonings in East Midtown and East New York, and had secured $288 million in investments for his own local rezoning in Far Rockaway.

In January 2018, Richards said he started his second term by being named chair of the Committee on Public Safety, which tied back to his initial motivation for getting into politics: “losing a childhood friend to gun violence.”

As chairman, he said he held oversight hearings on the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) marijuana enforcement strategies, the Special Victims Division, the Opioid crisis, school safety and their internal discipline system.

In addition to his chairmanship, Richards said he secured $70 million to fulfill the community’s 40-year dream of a new police precinct in Southeast Queens when Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill committed to creating the 116th Precinct in Rosedale.

Richards was also a member of the Committees on Criminal Justice; Environmental Protection; Land Use and Zoning; Public Housing; and Transportation.

He sat on the Council’s Leadership team and served as a Board member for the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, Habitat for Humanity, and was appointed to sit on the MTA and DOT’s Better Buses Advisory Group.

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