New Queens borough prez Richards promises better day for renters in swearing in ceremony

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards being sworn in by state Attorney General Letitia James before Queens Borough Hall on Dec. 6.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Having been officially sworn in on Dec. 2, new Queens Borough President Donovan Richards got to enjoy some pomp and circumstance with an official inauguration ceremony on Sunday afternoon outside Queens Borough Hall.

State Attorney General Letitia James did the honors this time as Richards, the first Black man ever elected to the office, that more affordable housing would be created in Queens and under more acceptable standards of affordability and greater diversity on community boards.

But Richards, a former southeast Queens councilman, said he would not have been there if it was not for those who had gone before him, namely the late Claire Schulman who gave him guidance; and the late Helen Marshall, who was the first African-American elected to the office, which is in its 122nd year of existence.

“Kids in my neighborhood, often grow up thinking that they can’t make it, and can’t do great things,” Richards said. “Being able to see someone like Helen Marshall in this seat means something and meant something to a young person of color like me. It’s why I’m standing here today and I will never ever forget your legacy.”

According to Richards, Superstorm Sandy offered a unique opportunity to redevelop Queens with more housing and infrastructure to give New Yorkers in the World’s Borough better lives following the disaster. Now, a financial crisis spawned of COVID-19 presents another opportunity to make improvements, Richards said, starting with tenant legal services and ensuring the developers build for an area median income reflective people already in the community.

“After Superstorm Sandy. I saw communities decimated. But we overcame we rebuilt infrastructure, stronger, we built new affordable and sustainable housing. We’re going to continue that work,” Richards said. “I know so many people are struggling to pay their rent or find an affordable place to live. There’s been incredible growth in our borough. But as we watch the skyline transform and grow in front of our eyes each and every day, there are too many people who feel as if they’re being left behind. We’re gonna build affordable housing in Queens. We’re gonna identify sites and ensure unit requirements are part of these projects, in the proper [area median income] in the borough president’s office.”

In the Nov. 3 general election, Richards beat Queens County Republican Party Chair Joann Ariola. Now, a special election will be held for his former council seat on Feb. 23.

Members of the Queens County Democratic Party attended the chilly, socially distanced outdoor ceremony such as party chair, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Queens District Attorney (and former Borough President) Melinda Katz, as well as Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and others in city and state government.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer also made an appearance at the event, telling the audience he hopes that in the coming years a Democratic majority on Capitol Hill will see his rise to majority leader.