Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/223 Sat, 06 Mar 2021 04:51:45 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Breaking Down Final 2020 Vote Tallies Across New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9961-breaking-down-2020-vote-new-york-city-biden-trump https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9961-breaking-down-2020-vote-new-york-city-biden-trump drive in rally

Joe Biden (photo: Adam Schultz/Biden for President)


New York City's long-awaited election results were finally certified Tuesday, four weeks after polls closed and just past the state's statutory deadline, making the five boroughs one of the last jurisdictions in the country to finalize the 2020 count.

The results show that, in a year with significantly more ballots cast and massive changes in party alignments, the Democratic Party made barely any gains in presidential turnout, while the smaller, more progressive Working Families Party made huge strides as it successfully fought to keep its ballot line in New York. Republican President Donald Trump, while deeply unpopular overall in his home city, actually increased his vote share from 2016, particularly from parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Overall in New York City, Biden received 2,321,759 votes, 76%, to Trump’s 691,682 votes, or 23%; a margin of 1,630,077. In 2016, Hillary Clinton 79% won of the vote to Trump’s 18%.

Biden won the state of New York by a 60%-38% margin; compared to Clinton’s 58.8%-37.5% win in 2016, meaning that while Biden did worse than Clinton in the five boroughs he outperformed her outside the city.

While a Biden-Harris sweep was a foregone conclusion in the heavily ‘blue’ city, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans eight to one, the final results sealed a number of consequential victories up and down the ballot, including in a few close races. There will be many new members of the State Legislature and House of Representatives, most of whom sailed in the general election after tough primary wins.

Some turnout trends reflect an electorate responding to the unique circumstances -- political and epidemiological, local and national -- surrounding the controversial 2020 election. And while the number of voters who cast ballots was way up from 2016 and several prior presidential elections, the turnout rate -- the percentage of registered voters who cast ballots -- did not move significantly.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak and major changes to traditional voting, including a universal absentee balloting option, turnout in New York City was the highest it has been in decades. A total of roughly 3.07 million ballots cast, over 300,000 more than in 2016, the greatest increase of any election cycle in the last 20 years and edging out the huge turnout leap between 2012 and 2016.

This year, 55% of registered voters cast ballots in New York City, one point lower than in 2016.

The final tallies reveal that despite the significant jump in voter participation, votes cast in New York City for president on the Democratic Party ballot line barely moved from four years ago: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris netted just 4,730 more votes than Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine in 2016, a .2% change.

The numbers indicate that the voter movement was split between additional votes for Trump-Pence and Biden-Harris on the Working Families Party (WFP) ballot line, which both saw increases of more than 100,000 votes in New York City.

Dozens of Democratic candidates, officials, and activists encouraged voters to choose Biden-Harris on the WFP line as the party, like others in the state, had to meet new statewide thresholds in order to keep its automatic ballot position. It was one of just two smaller parties, along with the Conservative Party, where Trump was the nominee, that survived.

The WFP handily broke the new and controversial vote threshold, mostly from city voters, as did the Conservative Party, mostly from upstate and Long Island. Both will retain their ballot lines over the next two years. The Green, Libertarian, Independence, and SAM parties -- some of which have been mainstays on the ballot for decades -- did not fare as well and will have to achieve new petition thresholds to put candidates on the ballot.

New York City also saw some historic down-ballot wins, including the election of City Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat, to Congress. Torres, who is Afro-Latino, and Mondaire Jones, another Democrat, who prevailed in Westchester County, will be the first Black openly gay members of Congress.

Democratic City Council Member Donovan Richards won the Queens borough presidency against an active Republican challenger, after securing the Democratic nomination in June, and was quickly sworn into office Wednesday given that Sharon Lee had been holding the post temporarily since Melinda Katz stepped down after being elected Queens District Attorney. Richards is the first Black man to become Queens Borough President.

Several members of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America chapter won their general elections for the State Legislature after prevailing in competitive primaries in Brooklyn and Queens, and will head to Albany to try to pull the Legislature further left. After unseating longtime Rep. Eliot Engel in the primary earlier this year, DSA-backed Jamaal Bowman finalized his ticket to Congress representing the Bronx and Westchester. And DSA standard-bearer Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a second term after facing well-funded primary and general election challengers in her Bronx and Queens district.

With all counties in New York State having finalized results as of Wednesday, the State Board of Canvassers is scheduled to meet Thursday to certify the statewide results, according to a spokesperson for the state BOE. The close race between Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi and his Republican challenger, Claudia Tenney, in Congressional District 22 in central New York will not be part of the certification due to ongoing litigation. New York State was the 42nd state to certify the election.

The deadline for state to select electors to the Electoral College is December 14, and the electors, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and many other prominent current and former officials, are currently scheduled to meet in Albany that day.

More on the Presidential Vote
President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first female vice president-elect and the first of African or Indian descent, garnered 2.3 million votes, or about 76% of the total votes for president and vice president cast in New York City in 2020.

In New York City, the number of votes on the Democratic line were about the same as in 2016, but the number of Working Families Party votes for the cross-endorsed ticket increased 250% to 226,000. Statewide, 4.8 million people voted for Biden on the Democratic line and 386,000 on the WFP line.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence received close to 692,000 votes, or 23% of the total, in New York City this year, an increase of nearly 200,000 votes over their performance in 2016. The leap in Trump votes was almost entirely on the Republican line, while he received a roughly 10,000-vote boost on the Conservative Party line compared to 2016, a 25% increase. Statewide, Trump received 2.9 million votes on the Republican line and 296,000 on the Conservative line.

The totals placed the WFP and Conservative Party above the 130,000 voter or 2% (whichever is higher) cutoff set by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature earlier this year. That cutoff was ultimately roughly 173,000 votes, which was 2% of the total 8.6 million votes for president cast across the state.

The new thresholds were first set by a commission, which was selected by Cuomo and the two legislative majority leaders and included state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, a close Cuomo ally, but were thrown out in court, and then enacted by the governor and Legislature earlier this year. They have been criticized as an attempt to kneecap minor parties, especially the WFP, which has been a thorn in Cuomo’s side, including by supporting Cynthia Nixon’s Democratic primary challenge to him in 2018, before Cuomo then appeared on the WFP ballot line for the general election for the third time.

Jacobs and others acknowledged that the effort was indeed meant to make “real” political parties prove themselves, given the old threshold was 50,000 votes in each gubernatorial election.

Other minor parties like the Greens and Libertarians, which historically have not cross-endorsed major-party tickets, did not break 12,000 votes this year, which was an especially bad year for minor party presidential candidates after 2016 was a particularly strong year for them across the country. The Green Party in particular was decimated this year, having lost about 25,000 votes from its presidential tally in New York City, roughly two-thirds of its 2016 showing in the city.

Turnout for the Libertarian Party in the city was relatively unchanged but the total number of votes the Libertarian presidential nominee, Jo Jorgensen, received on any party line was roughly halved from 2016; that year, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson won more than two-thirds of his New York City vote on the Independence Party line. The Independence Party, which unlike 2016 did not cross-endorse the Libertarian ticket in the general election, barely cracked 2,500 votes for Brock Pierce, a dramatic if relatively short fall from the 19,000 votes the party received citywide four years ago.

Despite the fact that since 2016 Democrats added 405,000 new registered voters to the party rolls in the five boroughs, the party only added the 4,730 votes to its 2016 city total won by Clinton. Many Democratic voters appeared to have voted for Biden on the WFP line. As of November 1, there were only 15,750 voters in New York City actually registered with the WFP, down about 1,000 over four years.

Meanwhile, Republican voter enrollment in the city increased by about 61,000 over the last four years, but Trump saw his vote total jump by about 100,000 overall, including by 187,000 on the GOP line alone.

Kanye West, the rapper, producer, and occasional ally of Donald Trump, received 927 write-in votes for president citywide, the most of any unaffiliated candidate.

At the borough level, Biden won in all but Staten Island, where turnout increased by about 36,000 votes, or roughly 20%. But on Staten Island, Trump received about 15,000 fewer votes than in 2016, indicating Biden’s relative popularity on the island compared to Clinton and Trump’s improved performance over 2016 in some parts of the other boroughs. The margin was still wide, though, with Trump winning 61.6% of the Staten Island vote to Biden’s 37.6%.

Biden won Manhattan by 84.5%-14.5%; the Bronx 82.5%-17%; Brooklyn 74%-25%; and Queens 69%-30%. While Biden improved on Clinton’s margin on Staten Island, Trump improved on his own margin from 2016 in all the other boroughs, particularly in the Bronx, where he had won only 9.6% in 2016; Brooklyn, where he won 17.9% in 2016, and Queens, where he won 22.1% in 2016.

Trump did especially well in areas of Brooklyn with large Orthodox Jewish populations and in other parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx with higher concentrations of white voters. He also appears to have picked up votes in some Hispanic-heavy areas of the city, mirroring a trend seen elsewhere in the country.

Down-Ballot Races
In Congressional District 11, which covers Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis beat incumbent Rep. Max Rose to flip the city's only Congressional swing district back to Republicans, who typically have held the seat. The final count was 155,586 votes for Malliotakis and 137,165 for Rose, or 53.15% to 46.85%. Rose ran ahead of Biden in the district and on Staten Island alone, likely indicating some share of Trump-Rose voters who split their ticket.

In the state Legislature, Democratic State Senator Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat representing a swing district in southern Brooklyn, won reelection in a relatively close race with Republican Vito Bruno by fewer than 4,000 votes. Gounardes received 51.8% of the total with just over 51,000 votes, but did increase his margin from his narrow 2018 victory over then-incumbent Senator Martin Golden.

Overall turnout in Brooklyn increased by close to 110,000 votes, or roughly 14%.

In the election for Queens Borough President, Council Member Richards, the Democratic nominee, defeated Republican Joann Ariola with 69.8% of the vote -- 519,000 to 206,000.

The boroughwide turnout increased by 103,000 in Queens or up about 15% from 2016.

In the Bronx, where turnout increased by about 30,000 votes (7%) from 2016 to 2020, Council Member Ritchie Torres, who won a crowded race for the Democratic nomination in June, beat Republican nominee Patrick Delices with 88.7% of the vote. The totals in that race were 170,000 for Torres and 21,000 for Delices.

In Manhattan, where there were no close races, turnout increased by 28,000 votes, only 4%, since 2016.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note: this article has been updated to correct the vote totals in NY-11.

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Breaking Down Final 2020 Vote Tallies Across New York City Thu, 03 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
'One For The History Books': Race to Replace City Council Member Donovan Richards Starts to Take Shape in Southeast Queens https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9790-race-replace-city-council-member-donovan-richards-southeast-queens-special-2021-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9790-race-replace-city-council-member-donovan-richards-southeast-queens-special-2021-election 1 over 200 units

City Council Member Donovan Richards (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Donovan Richards’ likely ascension to become the next Queens Borough President at the start of 2021 would trigger a special election to replace him in the City Council in the 31st District in Southeast Queens. With several candidates already in the race to replace Richards -- a Democrat who is term-limited out of his current position at the end of 2021 anyway -- and additional potential candidates circling, the likely special election is already shaping up to be one of the most contentious City Council races of next year.

The entire 51-seat Council will be on the ballot, along with the rest of city government, through the 2021 June primaries and fall general election, but several special Council elections, including in the 31st District, are likely for earlier in the new year. Bronx Council Members Ritchie Torres and Andrew Cohen are both also likely to win new positions, creating vacancies at the start of the year that could be filled via special election in late February or March -- elections that are slated to be the first city use of ranked-choice voting, which will apply to special and party primary races beginning in 2021.

The 31st Council District includes portions of Laurelton, Rosedale, Far Rockaway, the Rockaways, South Ozone Park, and Springfield Gardens. It is split between “mainland” Southeast Queens neighborhoods like Laurelton and Rosedale, and the Rockaways, which are somewhat separated largely by John F. Kennedy Airport (also one of the district’s main employers) and Jamaica Bay. According to Census data, the district is 68% Black, 16% Hispanic, and 11% white.

The “mainland” portion of the district consists predominantly of older and Black residents. In one neighborhood, Laurelton, which is 90% Black, the percentage of owner-occupied housing units is 70% and the median household income is $87,780. The Rockaways portion of the district has a higher percentage of white residents, includes a mix of younger people, and also a significant Orthodox Jewish community.

Southeast Queens has garnered a reputation in recent years as being a stronghold for the Queens County Democratic Party, in part because the area is home to the new county party chair, Rep. Gregory Meeks, and provided the strongest base of support for county party-backed Melinda Katz in her 2019 Queens District Attorney primary against public defender Tiffany Caban, now a Council candidate herself in Western Queens, and for Richards among a crowded field in this year’s Borough President race, which only occurred because of Katz’s shift to the DA position.

While the area has supported such county-backed figures with strong ties to the political establishment, its voters have also elected progressive State Senator James Sanders Jr. and, this year, community activist Khaleel Anderson, who won decisively in a primary for State Assembly against a county-backed opponent. But it’s not always as simple as county party-backed establishment figures versus progressives within the Democratic Party: Richards has a progressive track record, and recently voted against this year’s city budget because he believed it did not go far enough in defunding the NYPD’s budget.

The 31st Council District in some ways represents why ranked-choice voting was seen as desirable for Democratic primaries and special elections. In a 2013 special election, Richards barely won his Council seat, by a margin of just 70 votes, over Pesach Osina, an Orthodox Jewish candidate, with both garnering around 29% of the vote. Richards was among six Black candidates vying for the seat, all of whom together earned roughly 70% of the vote combined, while the lone non-Black candidate nearly won the race with less than half their total.

Now, as the likely special election approaches, Osina is back, though among a different field and with the new ranked-choice system in place.

Candidates and Potential Candidates
With several candidates already running or considering runs, this change could prove especially pivotal to the ultimate outcome of the race. Six people have either entered the race or expressed interest in doing so in some form, including Manuel Silva, Richards’ chief of staff; Franck Joseph, Deputy Commissioner for the City’s Human Rights Commission; Latanya Collins, a 2017 candidate for the seat; Monique Charlton, a consultant for the Department of Education; Latoya Benjamin, director of economic development in State Senator Sanders' office; Osina, who previously worked in the New York City Comptroller’s office; and Jazmine Outlaw, an activist with the Rockaway Youth Task Force.

Gotham Gazette spoke with Silva, Joseph, Benjamin, Charlton, and Outlaw, while Osina has not responded to an interview request and Collins was unreachable. Silva, Collins, Charlton, and Benjamin are currently in the race, while Osina and Outlaw have not yet officially entered.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Joseph said “my focus right now is to help New Yorkers as I fulfill my duties at my agency.” He indicated that, while he does have a campaign account open, he is not actively campaigning at the moment and is still undecided as to whether he will enter the race.

One person familiar with the district said that they thought Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman, whose 29th Assembly District overlaps with the 31st City Council District in Laurelton and Rosedale, could enter the race. Hyndman’s office declined an interview request. If she were to enter the race, Hyndman would immediately be a frontrunner, if not the clear favorite, given success rates for state legislators moving to the City Council and vice versa.

Four candidates had open campaign accounts at the time of the last filing deadline on July 11. Osina had $10,403 in cash-on-hand; Silva had $7,100; Benjamin had $3,219; and Joseph had $3,925. Osina led the candidates with 169 donors to Silva’s 127, while Benjamin had 30. The other candidates and potential candidates did not have open campaign accounts with the city Campaign Finance Board at the time of the last filing deadline.

A Unique District
“This is a very unique district. It has extremes of wealth and poverty. And then there's a geographic difference between the Rockaways and the mainland, if you will,” said Sanders Jr., the state senator who preceded Richards in representing the 31st Council District. As Sanders notes, Laurelton is one of the few neighborhoods in the country where Black income surpasses white income. At the same time, there are seven NYCHA public housing developments in the Rockaways alone.

“The Black community in Southeast Queens is politically liberal, but socially moderate,” said Sanders, who attributes his electoral success as “an unabashed progressive” to his ability to deliver effective constituent services.

“This is going to be a fascinating race,” Sanders said. “This is going to be one for the history books.”

Khaleel Anderson surprised many by winning the June Democratic primary for the 31st Assembly District (which overlaps significantly with 31st Council District). “It should’ve been covered like every other race,” he said, and “I was surprised” it was not.

“We’re probably the farthest away from Manhattan possible,” Silva said, when asked about the lack of attention races in the area receive.

“Southeast Queens is more open-minded than folks give us credit for,” Anderson said, when asked about the area’s reputation as of late as a political-establishment stronghold. “Southeast Queens definitely can be and is a bastion of new ideas and ambition, but they love to see folks who have fought the fight alongside them.”

“Progressives have been running and they’ve been winning, but [the Queens Democratic Party] is still in denial that we exist,” said Milan Taylor, the CEO of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, noting Anderson’s recent victory. “It’s like they’re trying to wish it away. To a certain extent, this is a changing of the guard. These candidates are young. They’re literally the future of Southeast Queens and of our city.”

Manuel Silva
Like some other chiefs of staff to term-limited City Council members, Silva is running for his boss’ current job. However, unlike counterparts Erik Bottcher (Corey Johnson, CD-3) and Nicholas Roloson (Costa Constantinides, CD-22), Silva does not currently have his boss’ endorsement. He identifies himself as a “100% hardcore progressive” and said he would be seeking the Working Families Party’s backing.

“City Council is probably the most important seat in local politics,” Silva said, when asked why he had decided to run. He pointed to flooding, budgetary issues, and reforming public safety as important issues for the local community. “We need leaders who are going to make bold decisions and push our city into the 21st century.”

“We need to demilitarize the NYPD and look at our public safety system in general,” said Silva, who said he supported reallocations of at least $1 billion away from the NYPD budget but “I just wouldn’t use that terminology,” referring to the “defund NYPD” slogan.

“I want to create programs around affordable home-ownership,” Silva told Gotham Gazette, while also expressing his support for affordable housing throughout the city, pointing to his work with Council Member Richards as something he would want to replicate.

Jazmine Outlaw
In addition to her work with the Rockaway Youth Task Force, Outlaw has been president of the 101st Precinct Council and is an EMT. “I’ve been doing this since I was 17 and it just snowballed from there,” Outlaw said, of her organizing background.

“There’s a difference between a career politician who’s worked for a senator and then people who’ve built things from the ground up and understand the community’s needs,” Outlaw said, when asked why she would run for Council.“I think we need more of those people stepping up and holding a seat at the table.”

“Things were wrong in our community and our voices weren’t being heard, from a youth standpoint,” Outlaw said, about why she joined RYTF, at which Anderson also grew his organizing chops. Outlaw said ending the school-to-prison pipeline and public safety are among her top priorities, pointing to her work on her local police precinct council.

“It’s really about police officers and the police department not taking the time to learn about our communities,” Outlaw said. “At the place we are now, we really need to take a different look at what we think of as community safety. I know for a fact that our community members don’t think of the police as a means of safety.” She said mental health services, youth programming, and affordable housing are necessary for public safety; and, she supports defunding the NYPD by at least $1 billion out of its roughly $6 billion annual operating budget.

“We need to focus on community-based alternatives to police and having a restorative-based approach,” Outlaw said. “A lot of the time police officers are band-aids to community problems and don’t deal with the root causes.”

“We need to prioritize making sure that health care is accessible for all. There needs to be a major shift in making sure that communities of color are getting the services they need,” Outlaw said, noting that the Rockaways were among the hardest-hit communities in New York City during the pandemic.

“There’s a progressive movement within Southeast Queens,” she said, noting this year’s Black Lives Matter protests. “I think we need somebody who sees those issues and is ready to bring lasting change. This is something that is possible, despite what naysayers may say.”

Latoya Benjamin
Benjamin, who serves as the director of economic development in State Senator Sanders’ office, said she’s running because the Council has a more direct role in economic development projects than the State Legislature. “I want to advocate for the changes in development I want to see in the community,” she said in an interview.

Benjamin points to the effects of COVID-19 as the top issue facing the local community, noting that one of the first coronavirus cases in New York City emerged in Far Rockaway and that “A lot of the leadership positions in our community are our elders and they’re no longer here.

“Covid further exposed the disparities that take place within our communities,” said Benjamin, who said she’d focus on bringing more public health resources to the local community.

“I’m a native, born and raised here,” Benjamin said, arguing that her experiences make her uniquely qualified to bring jobs and public resources back to the district. She diagnosed the failure of the Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal (which Richards supported) to Amazon “failing to do community outreach,” contrasting it to the recent expansion of John F. Kennedy Airport, where “The public and private sector worked hand-in-hand to get the local community’s support.”

Benjamin said her criteria for supporting new developments in the land use process would be “If the development meets the needs of the local community,” particularly noting that the local district has a deficit of health-care facilities.

On public safety, Benjamin said, “I support reevaluating the entire system” and “I believe that there are other ways to improve police-community relations.” While she supports reallocating resources away from police programs “that aren’t really useful,” she said, “I don’t think the blanket statement of ‘defunding the police’ is going to solve that.”

Monique Charlton
“I’m a part of a demographic that is underrepresented in the City Council,” Charlton said. “I’m a Black woman, a mother of a child under 18, and I’m running to represent a voice that’s not frequently heard.”

“I do think that with some of the decision-making in our legislative body, it’s not necessarily thoughtful or demonstrating concern for the family. Putting family people, specifically mothers, into a body that has been failing mothers will definitely make a difference,” Charlton said.

She lists education, health (particularly women’s health), housing, and jobs as her top issues. One of her focus areas if elected to the City Council would be “Ensuring that hospitals and health institutions see that Black mothers and all expectant mothers get the care they deserve.” She proposes that “The city assist new moms four months post-birth.” Details of this plan would be forthcoming, Charlton said.

“I see the shortcomings of the schools, particularly when it comes to funding,” Charlton said. She is also advocating remerging schools that were formerly divided, saying “It worked for a while but now with several changes that have occurred it’s time to bring schools back together.” She believes this will help with funding issues.

Charlton praised Council Member Richards’ land use policies, saying, “I think it’s important that the community be involved in the decision-making and how it affects our families.”

On public safety, Charlton said, “I would agree that we should reallocate some of [the NYPD’s] money to social services,” such as moving mental health crisis responses away from the police department.

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

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'One For The History Books': Race to Replace City Council Member Donovan Richards Starts to Take Shape in Southeast Queens Mon, 28 Sep 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Donovan Richards Lays Out His Vision As Likely Next Queens Borough President https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9709-queens-borough-president-elect-donovan-richards-lays-out-his-vision-for-the-borough https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9709-queens-borough-president-elect-donovan-richards-lays-out-his-vision-for-the-borough 40345450373 0092be0520 c

Council Member Donovan Richards (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


With his victory in the June Democratic primary, City Council Member Donovan Richards is poised to become Queens’s next Borough President, replacing former Borough President Melinda Katz who vacated the office in January after being elected the borough’s District Attorney.

Richards, a Democrat who currently represents Council District 31 and chairs the Council’s public safety committee, will face Republican nominee Joann Ariola, the chair of the Queens County Republican Party, in the November 3 general election. With an overwhelming Democratic voter enrollment advantage in the borough, Richards is all but assured to win. Queens has not elected a Republican borough president since James Lundy in the 1950s. In the 2016 presidential election, 75.4% of Queens voters supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over native son Republican Donald Trump, who received just 21.8% of the vote in his home borough.

Borough presidents have a prominent perch from which they can influence city policy. They play a significant role in land use decisions in their respective boroughs, though they do not have a binding vote. They serve ex officio on several municipal boards, and make appointments to Community Boards, the citywide Panel for Educational Policy, local Community Education Councils and the City Planning Commission. They can sponsor legislation before the City Council, though they cannot vote on it. They also control millions of dollars in capital funding for infrastructure projects.

Last week, Richards sat down for an interview on the Max & Murphy podcast, co-hosted by Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max and City Limits executive editor Jarrett Murphy. In the interview, he outlined his vision for the office and what his priorities would be if he wins the general election. “Our record spoke for itself,” Richards said of his primary victory, pointing to his work in the district, particularly on the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

“When you look at the crisis we overcame in the Rockaways, for instance, and how we’ve been able to rebuild the community back, but do it in a way that certainly addresses many of the systemic issues that residents were impacted by,” he said. “I think that’s what Queens residents are looking for. They’re looking for leadership and I think they will speak loudly in the general election on where this borough needs to go.”

Richards is steeling himself for the coming months, not just for the general election but for the expected second wave of the coronavirus that could possibly hit the city. Richards’ district, which encompasses parts of neighborhoods such as Laurelton, Rosedale, and the Rockaways in Southeast Queens, has been one of the areas hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic and, he noted, nearly 2,000 people in the district have died.

“The biggest thing is preparing for the worst,” he told Max & Murphy. He fears that historically underserved communities such as Southeast Queens will be at highest risk during a second wave. “We’re talking about decades of disinvestment and it’s going to take decades to get us out of the hole,” he added, although he did commend Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration for investments made in the community in recent years.

Richards was particularly critical, however, that the outer boroughs continue to be ignored in the city’s response to the pandemic. He noted, for instance, that the Department of Small Business Services has given over 56% of its coronavirus-related grants to businesses in Manhattan; only 17% of grants went to Queens businesses. “We’ll be watching that closely to see equity in the distribution of these funds moving forward, so we can help these small businesses stop the bleeding,” he said.

During the interview, Richards emphasized that economic development would be the path Queens needs to take to recover economically from the pandemic. “A large part of the strategy has to be around public-private partnerships,” he said, noting that New York is unlikely to receive substantial aid from the federal government under the Trump administration.

“Even as the outer boroughs become cities amongst themselves, we need to leverage these opportunities to bring commercial development and real affordable housing, and to leverage these opportunities to build out an economy in the outer-boroughs, not just Manhattan,” he said. “We should really be building communities that are self-sustainable.”

Richards was a vocal proponent of the ill-fated Amazon HQ2 deal that was meant to create 25,000 jobs in the city, and he has repeatedly expressed support for similar development deals. During the campaign, he was backed by the Real Estate Board of New York and accepted campaign contributions from real estate developers, while some of his opponents eschewed developers’ donations.

He emphasized that he believed in accountability and transparency on the promises that developers make to a community, and has said that he will never be beholden to real estate donors. “You have to be a part of this conversation, because there are legitimate fears out there & we have to acknowledge that,” he said. “But at the same time there can’t be a cancel culture either. Leadership isn’t saying that jobs aren’t for my community, leadership is fighting like heck to ensure that those jobs are going to your community.”

With his primary victory, voters seemed to back Richards’ strategy for growth and development. In the interview, he said “Absolutely, it was a mandate, because I didn't shy away from growth. That word has become poisonous for some reason in our city. And part of the reason is the de Blasio administration has done a poor job in spelling out accomplishments, like downtown Far Rockaway.”

When asked about the possibility of a local Council Member opposing a project in their district that Richards, as Borough President, would hypothetically support, he said, “I didn’t come here to win a popularity contest. Sometimes somebody else’s approach may not be my approach, but my template is very simple: Will the community benefit?”

“I don’t plan on being gentle,” he added. “I do plan on playing an oversized role in a lot of these discussions, with the community and the Community Boards as well, to ensure that we’re not just saying no because we don’t want density. No, how do we leverage that density?”

“I plan on certainly being a lot more active in the space. There needs to be a lot more expertise on land use,” Richard said, saying that he would “ramp up” land use expertise in the borough president’s office. “We should be coming up with that plan and presenting it to City Hall.”

As borough president, Richards also wants to shake up the composition of community boards as well as implement term limits (although, those have already been added to the City Charter through a 2018 ballot referendum). “We need to make sure that these community boards are diversified, that there are new voices and younger people at the table, because everybody has a different lived experience,” he said. He indicated that he wanted to see community board members go through bias training. “I go to some Community Boards and you’d be astounded at the things you hear,” he said.

When asked if he thought any neighborhoods in Queens were ripe for upzoning and greater density, Richards pointed to Queens Boulevard, which is also where Queens’ new community jail facility is expected to be built as part of the mayor’s plan to shutter Rikers Island and replace it with borough-based jails. Richards also said the Far Rockaway waterfront and Long Island City could be potential sites for upzoning.

Even as he runs for borough president, Richards still has important duties to carry out at the City Council. He has chaired the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, which oversees the NYPD and the Civilian Complaint Review Board, since the beginning of the current Council term in January 2018. As chair, he has held oversight on various aspects of NYPD conduct, including its enforcement of marijuana laws and school safety, and championed police reform legislation that was recently approved, including the creation of a “disciplinary matrix,” which would establish clear and transparent guidelines for internal discipline within the NYPD. He also previously secured $70 million in funding for a new police precinct in his district but those funds were rescinded in this year’s budget.

Richards notably voted against that budget because it did not go far enough to cut funding for the NYPD and reinvest it in communities of color, a demand that was central to the contentious budget negotiation in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests against systemic racism in policing. The budget also cuts funds to the CCRB, which monitors and investigates complaints of misconduct and abuse of force by police officers. “I’m very concerned by the cuts to the Civilian Complaint Review Board and the lack of partnership between the police department and the CCRB when it comes to sharing body camera footage,” he said.

“We’re going to have to have some hard discussions,” he added, pointing to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s June 21 executive order which requires police departments statewide to “reimagine” policing and present reform plans by April 1 next year.

Among the reform proposals that Richards has indicated support for is mandating that NYPD officers live in the city. About 51% of uniformed officers don’t live in the five boroughs, according to a Gothamist report. If a residency requirement isn’t possible, Richards said the city could offer “incentives” for officers to live in the city.

Richards has also voiced concern over the NYPD’s DNA database, which he says has “grown astronomically” over the course of the last year, despite the department’s promise to remove people not suspected of a crime from the database.

Though he has been critical of the police, Richards has also emphasized his willingness to bring them to the table when discussing ways to hold officers accountable. Recently, as the NYPD has pushed back against a new law that criminalizes chokeholds and other similar restraint methods, Richards has said he wants to hear their concerns. “I do want to open the door to them, to have a conversation on that,” he said. But he was quick to add, “We’re not going to just kowtow to the department without having meaningful conversations about reform.”

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

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Donovan Richards Lays Out His Vision As Likely Next Queens Borough President Tue, 25 Aug 2020 23:17:44 +0000
As Gun Violence Increases, So Does Disagreement Over De Blasio's Response https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9699-gun-violence-spike-new-york-city-disagreement-de-blasio-nypd-response https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9699-gun-violence-spike-new-york-city-disagreement-de-blasio-nypd-response ceremonial dermot

Mayor de Blasio & NYPD Commissioner Shea (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As New York City continues to see an increase in gun violence, concentrated largely in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his police department have gone with a familiar playbook of shifting resources to hot spots, holding gun buy-backs, and coordinating with community groups that seek to prevent shootings in vulnerable neighborhoods. But as shootings and murders have jumped by especially large numbers amid the pandemic, its resulting mass unemployment, and a movement for police reform, the city’s approach is being called into question from the left and the right.

After slowly recognizing the urgency of the spike in gun violence that has hit the city this year, de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, and other administration officials announced a series of steps they said the city would take to combat the problem, all while a battle raged over ‘defunding the NYPD,’ de Blasio and Shea were regularly at odds in public, and President Trump threatened to send in federal troops.

Some activists and elected officials say the plan de Blasio and Shea have offered is stale, utilized repeatedly when shootings have spiked in the past and at best a stopgap solution to a perennial issue, relying too much on throwing more police at a problem rather than addressing its systemic roots. On the right, police unions, some elected officials, and others argue that de Blasio and Shea have handcuffed and demoralized officers by acknowledging racism in law enforcement and police brutality and agreeing to a series of reforms. Even prior to those reforms, however, police had begun to make far fewer arrests – as of August 19, arrests were down by 39%, according to a NY1 report, despite an uptick in shootings that started early this year.

Gun violence has fallen dramatically over decades and some cries to the contrary notwithstanding, New York is nowhere close to the “bad old days” when the city was rife with crime. Except for some relatively minor annual fluctuations at times, shootings, murders, and major crime in sum have generally fallen since the early 1990s, reaching historic lows under de Blasio’s tenure. Overall, the seven categories of major index crimes are even down slightly in 2020, about 2.6% according to NYPD data, compared to last year, though murders, burglaries and car thefts have jumped.

Shootings -- largely done with illegal handguns despite New York’s stringent ownership and carry laws -- tend to spike in the hot summer months and the set of solutions offered by the mayor and his three police commissioners have been similar throughout de Blasio's six-plus years in office. But this has been far from a typical year. As of August 16, according to NYPD data, there had been 896 shooting incidents citywide, an 82.1% increase from 492 in the same time last year. The number of incidents has already surpassed the 772 shootings in all of 2019, which itself was 23 more than in 2018.

There has also been an increase in homicides this year so far, from 199 as of that same period last year up to 259 this year – in 2019, there were 315 murders in total.

Even after being repeatedly pressed on the issue, Mayor de Blasio’s plan has been light on details and results, as a month after he announced it, shootings continue apace. He said on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday that gun arrests began to climb last week, reaching similar levels as the same time last year.

Amid the debate over solutions, some have called for what they say is re-empowering the police through less scrutiny, more street stops, and higher incarceration rates. On the other hand, Black Lives Matter and ‘defund the NYPD’ activists who have been pushed to offer their own alternatives to the mayor’s plan have pointed to demands they’ve made for years for greater community investments in lieu of police presence.

De Blasio’s Approach Met by Criticism
On July 17, after months of increased gun violence and just after the particularly horrifying shooting death of a one-year-old in Brooklyn, the mayor announced his “End Gun Violence” program, which included reliable methods from the past – increasing patrols and deploying more detectives to hot spots; organizing gun buy-backs in those areas; sending more Community Affairs Officers to engage with the neighborhoods; increasing coordination between the police department and Cure Violence groups, which are part of the city’s Crisis Management System to prevent gun violence through authentic local voices trained to deescalate; and an “omnipresence” of officers from the Critical Response Group and Strategic Response Group of the NYPD – the SRG is the unit otherwise tasked with responding to terror incidents and civil unrest.

At the announcement, de Blasio emphasized the success the city has had in combining community engagement with targeted policing that the NYPD has employed. “We depend on grassroots efforts to stop violence, like the Cure Violence movement, the Crisis Management System. And we depend crucially on putting our police officers in the right locations with the right approaches and strategies,” he said. “And that's what precision policing is all about. That's what CompStat has taught us for years,” he added, referring to the NYPD’s crime statistics tracking system and departmental accountability paradigm. He’s used analogous approaches in the past few years, when there were upticks in shootings in specific neighborhoods, often under the through the Summer All Out banner signifying deployments.

Police Commissioner Shea noted that the recent violence was also largely localized in particular parts of the city. “We are moving all available resources to those areas,” he said. “You'll see increased foot patrols, as well as officers in uniform, in marked police cars. We'll also be overlaying that with increased technology, everything from cameras that are mobile to license plate readers and everything in between, and all of this is being done to really focus on that small number of people that frankly just don't get it."

To activists, the city’s approach fundamentally misunderstands the factors that underpin crime and gun violence, and skews the balance they would like to see between community-led and police efforts to pursue public safety.

Part of the disagreement stems from what they see as the reason for the increase in shootings and what the mayor, the NYPD, and moderate and conservative elected officials believe.

It’s a time of global upheaval, and the coronavirus pandemic has taken the lives of more than 23,600 New Yorkers (of more than 32,000 across the state). It has forced nearly a million people in the city out of their jobs and bankrupted thousands of businesses, shuttered schools and places of recreation, created fears of a looming eviction crisis, and left thousands of city residents struggling for basic necessities. It has left people stuck at home, idle, fearful, desperate, and angry -- in multiple ways increasing the chances for neighborhood, gang, and crew tensions to escalate, some have noted.

The mayor, while primarily pointing to the effects of the pandemic, which has taken an incalculable toll on New Yorkers, has also placed blame on the courts, insisting that with their closure to in-person proceedings and not calling grand juries, the city cannot prosecute suspects in gun violence cases. That rationale has, however, been debunked. Commissioner Shea has broadly attributed the spike in gun violence to the courts but also to the release of prisoners from Rikers Island during the pandemic and on recent bail reforms approved by the state Legislature (which went into effect January 1 but were later partially rolled back for July 1). Those theories similarly are not backed up in a significant way by available evidence. The mayor has refused to contradict Shea and has largely shied away from reprimanding him publicly, despite those and other false, misleading, inflammatory, or undermining statements.

“These are sort of easily proven lies,” said Katie Schaffer, director of advocacy and organizing at the Center for Community Alternatives, Inc. “But they're also dangerous lies because they are intended to move forward Commissioner Shea’s desire to stymie any kind of liberatory change, de-carceral change, investment in communities rather than in policing and jailing.” Schaffer emphasized that the mayor should stop resisting cuts to NYPD resources and instead restore funding to youth programs and social services cut under the recently-passed budget. “The reality is if you lie about the causes, then none of your solutions will make sense and in fact, they will be actively harmful,” she said.

Republicans and some conservative Democrats say the police have been demoralized and hamstrung by several police accountability measures implemented in the wake of recent Black Lives Matter protests. They point to Shea’s decision to disband the 600-member plain-clothes “anti-crime” units, known for taking guns off the streets in neighborhoods with high crime but, as Shea explained it, also responsible for a disproportionate number of shootings of civilians and disruption of attempts to improve community relations. 

“We should immediately reinstate the anti-crime teams,” said City Council Member Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, in a text message. “If de Blasio wants to call them something else, so be it, but we need dedicated cops to go after those carrying guns on our streets.”

De Blasio and Shea have said that those anti-crime-unit officers, who were reassigned to the neighborhood policing program and the detective bureau, would continue to pursue more targeted policing methods while building more trust in communities. “[T]here's ways to pinpoint the specific individuals who are causing most of the violence and to do that more effectively. I think one of the things the Commissioner came to feel about the ‘anti-crime’ approach was that it was too broad. It was not providing enough focus on the individuals doing the greatest violence and putting together the information needed for successful prosecutions,” the mayor said at a July 21 news conference. 

Critics like Borelli also took particular issue with a City Council-led measure that criminalizes the use of chokeholds and other restraint methods by police. That particular law, they say, is one reason police officers have significantly reduced arrests, leading to a spike in shootings. They have called for the law to be repealed or at least reformed to remove a provision that forbids any maneuver that would compress a suspect’s diaphragm during an arrest. “You have police officers that are paralyzed because the only person likely to become a felon for making an arrest is the officer themselves,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

But even as the mayor and other officials have expressed openness to adjusting the law, those critics haven’t reconciled the fact that de Blasio only signed that bill into law on July 15. Shootings had begun to increase well before then. They also often don’t take into account that the increase in shootings isn’t unique to New York City, that other major cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Oakland, Houston, and Denver, to name a few, have seen a similar rise in gun violence.

What Reformers Want
For reformers, particularly activists of color, conservative critiques and the mayor’s response to gun violence amount to reinforcing the adage that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. More crime means more police, rather than more investment in say education, affordable housing, anti-poverty initiatives, workforce and economic development, food insecurity, social welfare and community benefits.

“Police are almost by definition a reactionary solution,” said Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center and a long-time police reform activist. “Police show up at the scene after someone has already fired their gun....For the most part, when you're talking about shootings, when you're talking about violence between people, that is caused by a whole series of factors that police almost have nothing to do with.” 

The solutions that the mayor and police commissioner tout are the very things that communities of color are already rebelling against, Griffith said. “If you create a culture of incarceration, which also creates a culture of repression and violence and anger and captivity, then I think that that contributes to shootings,” he said.

Activists like Griffith readily concede that there are no simple fixes. But the city’s knee-jerk policing response, he said, fails to address the underlying socio-economic factors that create the conditions for increasing violence. “When you talk about putting more police on the street, that does not speak to gun violence, it speaks to control,” he said. “It speaks to surveillance. It speaks to punishment and incarceration. It doesn't speak to what leads to someone picking up a gun and deciding that they want to use it on somebody else.”

The pandemic has only worsened the desperation in those communities that have historically suffered from government apathy and where mistrust of police was well ingrained well before George Floyd was killed. While de Blasio has repeatedly pointed to the socioeconomic dislocation of the pandemic when discussing the gun violence crisis, he has often been criticized for moving in too-limited fashion to help spur the city’s economic revival.

In such a situation that the city finds itself, a social problem shouldn’t be met with a police response, said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of activist groups. “Safety is not just about keeping a gun from being waved in your face. It's about making sure that I don't feel like I have to wave a gun in someone's face to feed my family,” she said. “What are we doing to make sure that people don't get to the point where they feel like violence is their only option? I think the answer to that is jobs.” Pierre specifically warned of the “storm brewing” as the city could face a second wave of the coronavirus and as the mayor prepares to lay off as many as 22,000 city employees.

Among elected officials of color there are degrees of difference in the response they want to see from the city. There’s consensus that violence interrupters and community outreach workers are valuable in preempting shootings, but varying perspectives on other pieces of the equation. These divisions could also be seen in the debate over defunding the NYPD in the new city budget.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams last month proposed three short-term solutions to gun violence that the city should implement, acknowledging that the NYPD would have to work in close collaboration with community groups to curb the recent increase in shootings. He called for implementing 'Community CompStat' where the NYPD proactively shares crime data with anti-violence groups; pushed for an “Advance Peace” model that would expand the Crisis Management System and provide mentorship and financial incentives to at-risk youth; and urged the NYPD to do its job with “with equity, transparency and accountability” without blaming the recent bail reforms, ‘defund’ debate, and Council legislation for the rise in shootings.

“Those who believe that law enforcement have no role to play in our public safety discussion are wrong,” Willias said. “Those who believe law enforcement is the only role needed in public safety could not be further from reality.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer, has pushed for partially reinstating a version of the ‘anti-crime’ unit, if not at a citywide level than at least in certain precincts. “I think that a total elimination is something we need to reevaluate,” he said at a news conference last month, according to a CBS2 report. “Right now, bad guys are saying if you don’t see a blue-and-white [police car] you can do whatever you want.” Adams also praised the work of the CMS and has additionally called for the creation of a tri-state task force to directly address the proliferation of illegal handguns.

City Council Member Donovan Richards, who chairs the public safety committee, said, “The solutions lie within the community. That's just the bottom line.” He did raise concerns about the increased mistrust among communities of color about police leading to lower morale, and a clear slowdown in police activity. Richards has now floated the possibility of amending the police chokehold law (being called the diaphragm law by critics) in exchange for a return to vigorous policing. But he also said the city failed to be ready for the expected consequences of a massive public health crisis.

With people out of jobs and wondering how they will make rent or buy groceries, Richards said “it becomes survival mode, it becomes Game of Thrones out here, right now in real life.”

“So the question is which strategy will the city move towards in the long-term that will prevent something like this happening ever again?,” he continued. “And those safeguards have to be in place before a pandemic...These are largely the things communities were screaming for for decades and no one heard them.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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As Gun Violence Increases, So Does Disagreement Over De Blasio's Response Thu, 20 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Development, Jobs & His Vision for Queens https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9697-max-murphy-podcast-donovan-richards-nypd-reform-jobs-vision-queens-borough-president https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9697-max-murphy-podcast-donovan-richards-nypd-reform-jobs-vision-queens-borough-president donovan richards 600

City Council Member Donovan Richards (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


August 19, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Police Reform, Jobs & His Vision for Queens

City Council Member Donovan Richards, very likely the next Queens Borough President, joined the show to discuss how he plans to operate as borough president and what's next as he chairs the Council's public safety committee.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

Max & Murphy · Episode 243: Donovan Richards On Police Reform, Jobs & His Vision For Queens

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Donovan Richards on Development, Jobs & His Vision for Queens Wed, 19 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Queens Democrats Set to Vote for Next Borough President: What to Know About the Race and the Candidates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9490-queens-democrats-set-to-vote-for-next-borough-president-what-to-know-about-the-race-and-the-candidates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9490-queens-democrats-set-to-vote-for-next-borough-president-what-to-know-about-the-race-and-the-candidates queens borough president election

Left to right: Democrats Richards, Crowley, Constantinides, Yin, Miranda


This story was published in partnership with the Queens Daily Eagle

Early voting begins today -- Saturday, June 13 -- for the Democratic primary for Queens Borough President, a race that was triggered when the previous officeholder, Melinda Katz, was elected the borough’s district attorney last year and took office in January.

As much as borough presidents hold largely ceremonial roles, they do have important powers, healthy budgets, and a make-what-you-will-of-it bully pulpit -- they can have real world impact and the office-holder matters. This is especially true as the city faces a tough road to recovery from the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout.

In terms of nuts-and-bolts powers, the borough president makes advisory recommendations on land use issues, appoints members to the borough’s 14 community boards, and allocates funding from a $65 million discretionary capital budget.

In normal circumstances, the vacancy left by Katz would have been filled fairly quickly through a nonpartisan special election. But after COVID-19 struck and New York City became the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, the state’s electoral calendar was disrupted. A special election scheduled for March 24 to name a borough president for the rest of the year was initially suspended by Mayor Bill de Blasio on March 15, just one day after early voting began.

Subsequently, Governor Andrew Cuomo delayed the special election to June 23 before outright cancelling it so it would not clash with the primary scheduled the same day, part of the election to determine the officeholder for all of 2021, when there will be yet another election in the city’s normal four-year election cycle. Interim Borough President Sharon Lee has wound up with a far longer tenure than anyone foresaw when she was sworn in just after Katz had to resign to take her new post.

There were six candidates running in the special election – sitting City Council Members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides; former City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; retired NYPD Sergeant and police reform advocate Anthony Miranda; former Queens Assistant District Attorney Jim Quinn; and Dao Yin, a community activist with corporate experience. Quinn, who did not petition to get on the primary ballot, has since been forced to drop out of the race after a failed court challenge to restore the special election.

“While I strongly disagree and believe this decision disenfranchised Queens voters who have a right to an elected borough president before January 2021, at this point further legal action would be futile and we must accept the judge’s ruling,” he said in a May 29 statement.

The other five candidates -- a group with diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and priorities for Queens -- are on this month’s Democratic primary ballot. Along with early voting June 13-21 and primary day, June 23, all eligible voters can utilize absentee balloting per a Cuomo order aimed at reducing the risk of coronavirus spread.

The pandemic has far-reaching implications for the election and its aftermath, particularly since Queens, with more than 2.3 million residents, contains some of the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. As of June 10, the city reported 205,011 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 53,369 hospitalizations and 21,960 confirmed and probable deaths. There have been 6,389 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths in Queens alone.

Neighborhoods in western and southeast Queens have borne the brunt of the outbreak, seeing more cases than most other zip codes across the city. That also raises the question of who will turn out to vote. There is no polling model for voter behavior in the middle of a pandemic and there have been no public polls at all to gauge the state of the race.

With most people sheltering at home and wary of casting their ballots in person at polling sites, and with the state hoping to avoid new clusters of infection, Governor Cuomo passed a series of executive orders that first allowed any voter to request an absentee ballot and then directing the State Board of Elections to mail a postage-paid absentee ballot application to all registered voters.   

Candidate Differentials
The candidates themselves have had to adapt to the new reality. Each of them abandoned on-the-ground canvassing efforts and turned to digital and social media to reach voters. They have continued to participate in town halls and debates, held virtually.

On the issues, the candidates largely express similarities, though they have taken varied stances on some important topics and have different focal points of their campaigns. All of them, save for Yin, have presented themselves as progressives who want criminal justice reform, economic development, more affordable housing, environment protections, and improved transit. They all supported the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. Yin’s focus seems to be mostly on protecting small businesses, and he’s also tacked to the right on policing.

But there are degrees of difference and the candidates each have their areas of expertise. Constantinides, as chair of the Council’s environmental protection committee, can squarely declare himself the green candidate and has sought to claim ground as the most progressive candidate. Richards has spent years focused on police reform, including as chair of the Council’s public safety committee, and smart development, including of mixed-income affordable housing. Crowley is a more moderate liberal, focused on job growth and quality of life, with reform through steady, incremental change. Miranda declares himself the outsider with no ties to the current or former political establishment. And Yin is the longer longshot candidate, with a far less active campaign than the others.

For the undecideds, the voters who wait till the last minute to make their choice, the recent protests in the city spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis could also be a determining factor. Queens voters could reject candidates who stand alongside the police rather than the protesters, or vice versa. Some voters may base their choice on who they’ve heard speak to them on issues related to police reform, the NYPD budget, and combating structural racism. Some voters may yearn for limited change -- while western Queens has become a hotbed of progressivism, the eastern part of the borough remains more moderate and conservative, and home to many in law enforcement.

Donovan Richards
Richards is among the frontrunners, having secured the backing of the Queens Democratic Party. But the county party is a shadow of what it once was and may no longer play the kingmaker of past elections.

But Richards, who is black and represents District 31 covering southeast Queens and Far Rockaway, isn’t relying on the party infrastructure to lift him to the top. He’s confident that he’s the most experienced and accomplished candidate in the race. “If you had a major surgery, do you want somebody to operate on you their first day on the job or do you want somebody who’s actually had the experience and record of getting you through a successful surgery?”

This isn’t the first time Richards has had to tailor his campaign to a major emergency, he said, noting that he was first elected to the City Council in a special election in 2013 just months after Hurricane Sandy. As he was working to deliver food and emergency supplies to those affected by the hurricane then, he’s been working to ensure that Queens residents have access to personal protective equipment, testing, and other necessities during the COVID-19 pandemic. And he has been a vocal proponent for reforming the NYPD and cutting the department’s budget amid the ongoing movement against police brutality during which the mayor has mostly dug in his heels.

“People want to see you out in the street. They want to know that during a time of crisis, you're going to respond and you're going to be on the ground,” he said. “A campaign shouldn't be about slogans and about who can get the best sound bite in a debate. It should be about, what is your record in a time of crisis.”

Richards proudly touts the resources and investments he’s brought back to his community: $1.5 billion for sewer infrastructure in Southeast Queens when he was chair of the environmental protection committee; $139 million under the Downtown Far Rockaway rezoning, which includes about 2,000 units of affordable housing, new libraries, parks and commercial space. He also played a role in creating the city’s OneNYC sustainability plan, aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change and had a hand in the final design of the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing affordable housing policy when he chaired a zoning subcommittee.

All the other candidates “have never lived that experience of bringing a community back after eight years from the devastation of a hurricane,” he said.

“There's no community in Queens that’s seen more investment than ours. So that's what people are looking for and I think I have the blueprint of how to achieve that for the entire borough,” he added. 

As the borough and the city at large struggle with an affordable housing crisis, Richards said he’s the only candidate “who actually understands housing policy” since he led the subcommittee on zoning and franchises. “In a community like mine, you can literally and physically come in and see 10,000 units of affordable housing being built,” he said. “While the rest of Queens’ economy is sort of stagnating and you're not seeing new commercial come into communities, in the Rockaways, there’s about 300,000 square feet of new retail coming in. New plazas, new streets, new infrastructure. That's the difference.”

Richards said he has broad support across the borough, not only in his district. He has been endorsed by several prominent labor unions including 1199 SEIU, DC37, the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council, along with nearly two dozen state, local and national elected officials including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Gregory Meeks (who leads the Queens County Democrats). “We’ve built out a broad enough coalition,” Richards said.

With the movement on police reform having gathered strong momentum leading up to the primary vote, Richards also believes his record on pushing for police accountability sets him apart. “My first vote coming into the City Council was on the Community Safety Act, which actually ended stop-and-frisk technically,” he noted of the 2013 legislation, passed over a Mayor Michael Bloomberg veto, that established an inspector general of the NYPD and strengthened protections against racial profiling in police stops.

He’s also sponsored several bills to reform the department including, most recently, one that would create a disciplinary matrix for officer misconduct. “There’s no one who’s been more entrenched in the work than me,” he said. The legislation, first introduced by former City Council Member Dan Garodnick last Council session, may be finally set to move, though while a hearing was recently held, chaired by Richards, a full Council vote has not been scheduled.

One area where Richards may lose progressives, however, is his willingness to accept contributions from real estate developers, which have become taboo for some over the course of several years as the city’s unaffordability crisis has worsened. Richards has insisted that he’s shown an ability to drive a hard bargain and that he wouldn’t be beholden to those donations. “I think it's going to be incumbent that we have a borough president who understands and knows how to work with development, and how to shepherd in benefits for local communities. It’s not just writing a blank check to developers,” he said.

His campaign fundraising and expenditure is second to Crowley. As of June 8, he has raised $295,382 in private donations, received $751,284 in public funds from the Campaign Finance Board and has spent about $826,312.

Costa Constantinides
City Council Member Costa Constantinides, who is white and represents District 22, covering Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside, has also been primarily focused on the response to the pandemic. “This is the challenge of our lifetimes and that’s not an understatement. This is life and death,” he said.

“My priority as a Council member and as a candidate is taking care of people, first and foremost...What sets me apart is that we have a real plan,” he said. He pointed out that the very issues he’s advocated for – a ‘Green jobs plan,’ reducing pollution and investing in renewable energy, environmental justice and public health – have all converged under this pandemic caused by a respiratory illness. Neighborhoods with more pollution tend to have higher rates of asthma, which in turn can put people at higher risk of dying from COVID-19, according to at least one study. The massive job loss and recession brought about by the coronavirus shutdown have also made the need for green jobs more urgent, Constantinides argues.

His advocacy for environmental causes has earned him the endorsement of the Sunrise Movement NYC and Sierra Club NYC. He has several labor backers including RWDSU, Teamsters Local 553, UFCW Local 1500, IUOE Local 94 and CWA Local 1106. And a number of Democratic clubs have also endorsed him including Stonewall Democrats, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, New Queens Democrats, and Muslim Democratic Club of New York. He has the support of StreetsPAC, Our Revolution, and the Hispanic American Voters Association.

“We have built a progressive coalition that's focused on fighting for the future of Queens and what kind of world we want to live in,” he said.

Constantinides sees almost every issue, whether its infrastructure or economic development or even a criminal justice issue like closing the Rikers jails, from an environmental perspective. That’s the foundation of his green jobs plan, which he said would be essential in driving the borough’s recovery from COVID-19.

“We need 21st century middle-class jobs,” he said while also taking a shot at the failed Amazon deal that did not include a guarantee of union jobs. He envisions “rebuilding Rikers Island, when it closes, with green renewable energy. Looking to solarize and green roof every city building in Queens. Having public works projects that are going to invest in our borough, that’re going to lift people out of poverty and into middle class jobs and at the same time reduce the burden on environmental justice neighborhoods that are suffering from decades of environmental racism.”

While the city has suspended the land use review process during the pandemic, Constantinides has been pushing to restart it at least for the redesignation of Rikers as a public space.

He also seemed to express some displeasure with Katz’s tenure as the borough president. “I'm not the status quo. I'm not willing to go along with what's been going on for the last seven years,” he said.

The city’s matching funds program has also put him at largely an even footing with the other candidates. Constantinides has raised  $266,261, received $720,754 in public funds, and has spent $860,104 as of June 8.

Elizabeth Crowley
Former Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who is white, has laid the groundwork for a run for borough president for several years — at least since her narrow defeat to Bob Holden in Queens’ District 30 in 2017.

She has outraised her opponents, raking in $505,614 in private contributions and $1,152,592 in matching funds as of June 8, and she has outspent them — making big TV ad buys ahead of the canceled March special election.

To Crowley, the office of borough president demands a leader who can unite the sprawling borough’s diverse communities in pursuit of common goals.

“I don’t look at the role as a cheerleader. I look at it as a master planner. Someone who understands how to properly grow communities,” she said. Crowley supported Amazon’s plan to establish a sprawling campus in Long Island City and has said that Queens will be “open for business” if she were elected. She has the support of various trade and transit unions, including Transit Workers Union 100 and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9 — her own former union.

She has also has the backing of various firefighters unions, whom she worked with as chair of the Council’s Fire and Criminal Justice Services committee. Her cousin, former Queens Democratic boss and Congressional Representative Joe Crowley, has fundraised for her.

Crowley’s top priority is ensuring Queens gets its “fair share” in terms of public transit, school funding, and medical facilities. The fair share argument is a common complaint at community board meetings and town hall events in Queens, where parents decry sending their kids to the most overcrowded schools in the city. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the borough’s inadequate number of hospital beds, exacerbated by the shutdown of three hospitals since 2008.

Transportation has remained the centerpiece of Crowley’s campaign. Before announcing her candidacy, she championed a plan to resuscitate a discontinued rail line linking Jamaica and Long Island City, with stops in Middle Village. She has also long called for free bus service, a de facto policy during the COVID-19 crisis that she said should remain in place.

Improved transit access and brand new routes would lead to more jobs and affordable housing, she said.

Crowley, who made nominations to Queens Community Board 5 during her time as a Council member, has raised eyebrows with her responses to questions about community boards during her campaign. In November 2019, she and Constantinides signed a pledge to defer to local boards on “any and all” recommendations  — a commitment she repeated during a candidate forum in Little Neck in February. Nevertheless, she has described community boards as “out of touch” with a need for more young voices.

She has squared the seemingly divergent perspectives by explaining that her board appointments would truly reflect each district, making their recommendations more representative of the community’s interests. As borough president, she would have the power to overhaul the make-up of Queens community boards.

Crowley has distinguished herself from her two former Council colleagues in the race, Constantinides and Richards, by tacking to the center-right on public safety. She proudly accepted the endorsement of the city’s Police Benevolent Association and stood by their support, even as other Queens elected officials publicly denounced the union and returned campaign contributions from the cops.

“I still stand by our police but I know that reform needs to happen,” she said. “While there is systemic and generational racism in the police department and other city agencies, and that’s something we need to combat, at the same time the vast majority of officers are going to work every day to protect and serve.”

She has pledged to form an office task force to examine and combat anti-Semitism and other hate crimes.

At the same time, she has pointed to her progressive record on criminal justice issues, citing her early advocacy for closing Rikers Island jails (which appeared to cost her significantly in her 2017 campaign versus Holden) and passing the Raise the Age measure, which finally moved children off Rikers in 2018. 

Crowley has also rejected contributions from developers — an issue she said is important for a potential borough president who makes advisory recommendations on land use issues. 

“I’ve seen firsthand how for-profit developers drive out communities,” she said. Ridgewood, located within her former Council district, has seen a surge in new development and rising rents, similar to other parts of the borough, especially in western Queens.

While Crowley, endorsed by the PBA and rated “A+” by the Presidents Co-Op and Condo Council, seeks to appeal to moderate voters, another candidate has emerged as the most conservative voice in the primary.

Dao Yin
Dao Yin, an entrepreneur and business consultant born and raised in China, has differentiated himself from the field by championing the NYPD’s response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the police crackdown following isolated looting incidents.

“We are all appalled by the looting across our city,” Yin said in an interview. “The chaos and anarchy on our streets screams for more officers in our streets to defend our working men and women.”

He said the looting was yet another assault on small businesses battered by exorbitant commercial rents and the COVID-19 economic lockdown. Fostering a business-friendly environment is one of his main focuses, he said.

“We must protect our businesses and residents across our city. The economy is already devastated by COVID,” said Yin, who has raised $122,915 in private contributions and $407,041 through the city’s matching funds program as of June 8.

A borough president has no formal role in creating law enforcement policy or ensuring public safety, but Yin said he would orient the office around establishing respect between communities and law enforcement. He said he would specifically set up a division within the borough president’s office to liaise with Queens police precincts and the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

“The police department in the community is more important than ever now. If I’m elected, the first thing I’ll do is collaborate with community leaders throughout Queens to promote respect,” he said.

He would also use the office to promote a plan for “reasonably priced prefabricated buildings” to foster cost-effective affordable housing development. The concept has begun to gain some traction, with a prefabricated modular affordable housing complex in the works in Brooklyn.

“It would ensure developers can make a profit while charging reasonable rent prices. The material cost is cheaper and building time is shorter,” Yin said.

Yin also touted his business credentials and said he would work to lure major corporations to the borough in the wake of Amazon’s decision to pull out of Long Island City. At a candidate forum hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce in February, Yin said he would have flown to Seattle to beg Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to change his mind. 

He doubled down on his support for Amazon in the recent interview.

“Queens is a borough of small businesses, we have thousands of small businesses, but we have to work with large corporations like Amazon,” he said. “Amazon would have invested in us.”

Yin said he would welcome other large corporations to the borough. “Amazon is the largest but Amazon has rivals,” he said.

Anthony Miranda
Like Yin, retired police sergeant Anthony Miranda has attempted to outflank his opponents. But in Miranda’s case, it’s from the left, framing himself as the most progressive candidate in the Democratic primary. He was the only candidate to endorse Bernie Sanders from the very beginning of Sanders’ campaign — Constantinides endorsed Sanders after Elizabeth Warren dropped out.

Miranda has specifically advocated for a moratorium on luxury development in the borough and said he would reject any land use plan that does not include 100 percent affordable housing.

“We’re in a housing crisis and again we’re giving away land,” Miranda told the Queens Eagle, while discussing his opposition to a rezoning proposal along the Flushing Creek Waterfront. “This is a pattern consistent all over Queens. We’re in an affordable housing crisis and our solution is to build luxury apartments?”

Reporting on Miranda’s past campaigns calls some of his current progressive messaging into question, however. In 2010, he ran against Assemblymember Jeff Aubry and criticized Aubry’s efforts to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws, according to the Queens Chronicle and Queens Courier.

Miranda disputed that reporting on his 2010 campaign and said he has championed police reform as a leader of the National Latino Officers Association. He texted two Getty Images photos of himself standing with Sean Diddy Combs, Russell Simmons, and then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo at a press conference demanding the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

“We were speaking about these issues before it was safe or popular,” he said, adding that he would have “representatives from every single community in the borough functioning in our office.”

Miranda, who has raised $82,915 in private contributions and $377,484 in public matching funds as of June 8, remains aligned with close friend and one-time boss Hiram Monserrate, a former state senator and City Council member convicted of both public corruption and a domestic violence-related misdemeanor. Miranda defended his ties to Monserrate, who is now running for Assembly against Aubry, and said justice reform means giving people new opportunities after they serve their sentences.

He also pointed out that Costantinides, Crowley, and Richards attended a forum at Monserrate’s East Elmhurst Corona Democratic Club in 2019.

Miranda has been sharply critical of the three current or former Council members in the race when it comes to affordable housing and police reform. He went on the offensive during a NY1 candidates’ forum in early June, calling out Richards for his votes to increase NYPD funding.

Miranda has also blamed them for the lack of diversity on Queens community boards.

“They have all been part of that process, and it is either direct neglect or inattentiveness to that fact that there has been this lack of representation,” Miranda told the Queens Eagle in December 2019.

He said that as borough president he would assist Council members and local community boards with conducting community outreach to ensure people from underrepresented communities, especially Latino residents, apply to the boards. All 14 Queens community boards have significant racial, gender and ethnic disparities compared to the districts they represent.

Miranda has the backing of the Voice of Pakistani Americans, The Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group, New York City Deputy Sheriffs Association and 100 Hispanic Men.

He acknowledged the limited role of the borough president in terms of crafting policy. The main function of the office is to coordinate the borough’s many elected officials to more effectively lobby for the borough, he said.

“A coordinated process would have brought better results for Queens in the past,” he said. “The Queens borough president is supposed to be the chief cheerleader and organizer of all the political leaders in Queens and I would ensure that happens.”

Voting
All Queens Democrats are eligible to vote in the Borough President primary, which is happening via early voting June 13-21, primary day June 23, and absentee balloting open to all voters due to the pandemic. The winner of the primary will advance to the fall general election and be favored to win, then take office January 1, 2021, before having to run for reelection in the June 2021 primary and, if successful, fall 2021 general in order to then serve a full four-year term from 2022 through 2025.

***
by Samar Khurshid of Gotham Gazette & David Brand of the Queens Daily Eagle

@samarkhurshid @GothamGazette
@DavidFBrand @QueensEagle

Note - this article has been updated.

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Queens Democrats Set to Vote for Next Borough President: What to Know About the Race and the Candidates Fri, 12 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9475-defund-the-nypd-whats-in-new-york-city-police-department-budget-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9475-defund-the-nypd-whats-in-new-york-city-police-department-budget-de-blasio lebanon hosp res

The NYPD budget is in the spotlight, but what's in it (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


The daily protests in New York City over police brutality and racism bore fruit this weekend as Mayor Bill de Blasio reversed course, announcing that he would cut police department funding and institute other reforms at the NYPD. The State Legislature also took notice and expedited a long list of police accountability and transparency measures that had languished for years.

Over the last ten days, as the protests swelled across the city and the NYPD responded with force, calls to “Defund the NYPD” reached a crescendo. Also against the backdrop of a severe city fiscal crisis brought about by the coronavirus shutdown, several City Council members vowed to vote against a budget that does not include major cuts to the police department, many of them insisting on at least a $1 billion reduction as the Council and mayor must deliver a spending plan by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

At $5.9 billion in the current fiscal year, the NYPD has the third-largest budget of all city agencies after the Department of Education and Department of Social Services. It comprised about 6% of the city’s total $92.8 billion adopted budget for the current fiscal year (FY2020). Most of that police department funding comes from the city, with a few hundred million from state and federal grants. 

The $5.9 billion in direct operating funding for the department doesn’t nearly cover what the police cost in New York City. Pension contributions and fringe benefits cost about another $5 billion in the 2020 fiscal year. There are capital funds allocated to policing infrastructure, including roughly $411 million in city funds in the 2021 fiscal year for cars and precincts, and another $211 million in expense funding spent on debt service for police-related capital costs that is not factored into the NYPD’s budget. 

Added to that are the costs to the city from settlements of claims against the NYPD. The latest annual report from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, from April 2019, showed that the city paid $230 million in the 2018 fiscal year for settlements and judgements stemming from 6,472 lawsuits.

The mayor’s executive budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year, released in April, estimated that the NYPD will spend $5.92 billion by the end of the 2020 fiscal year and allocated $5.64 billion to the department (without state and federal funds) for the next fiscal year. Though the mayor’s budget included significant planned cuts at many city agencies, the NYPD emerged relatively unscathed, with only $23.8 million in planned reductions. And unlike other agencies that had to find large savings under the mayor’s $2.1 billion Program to Eliminate the Gap, the NYPD only found about $25 million in FY2020 and $16 million in FY2021. 

At the same time, the mayor slashed planned funding for education, youth employment, and after school programs. The Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) saw a 32% cut in its proposed budget, entirely eliminating the Summer Youth Employment Program that provided summer jobs to 70,000 young people, many from low-income communities of color, last year. After immense outcry, de Blaso has since indicated he is working with the Council and employers to create a version of the program, but has not announced details as June moves along.

The mayor promised on Sunday that he would shift funding from the NYPD towards “youth initiatives and social services,” though he did not provide specific numbers. “The details will be worked out in the budget process in the weeks ahead, but I want people to understand that we are committed to shifting resources to ensure that the focus is on our young people,” he said at a press briefing. “And I also will affirm while doing that, we will only do it in a way that we are certain continues to ensure that this city will be safe.”

The mayor’s announcement was welcomed by many of his fellow Democrats and by activists, though they noted it remains to be seen how far those cuts will go. Even NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea expressed public support, tweeting, "To help the kids of our city, I’m 1,000% behind shifting some funding from the police to youth programs. It’s incumbent upon all of us to dig down and do what’s needed." He too said in interviews that he still wants to see exactly what the mayor and City Council have in mind, though.

“I am happy that the Mayor had been listening to the Council’s calls to make substantial cuts to the NYPD and reinvest that money in communities of color and our young New Yorkers,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I commend the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus for its strong leadership in this discussion. The devil is in the details, but we are fighting hard for a budget that reflects our values and our priorities. As we have said, a less than one percent cut to the NYPD and a 32% cut to DYCD is not representative of our values.”

It would be hard to significantly cut the NYPD’s budget without severely reducing its headcount. The city in 2015 added nearly 1,800 employees to the NYPD, including 1,300 new officers at the behest of the City Council. 

According to an analysis by the Independent Budget Office, about 88.8% of the department’s adopted budget in Fiscal Year 2019 covered personnel services (salaries, wages and overtime) while 11.2% went to “Other than Personal Services” (OTPS) to fund purchase of supplies and equipment. Salaries and overtime for full-time employees – more than 36,000 uniformed personnel and about 15,500 civilian employees – covered nearly 75% of the budget. Planned overtime alone accounted for about 10% (or nearly $600 million) of spending that year while actual overtime spending was $730 million by the end of the fiscal year. 

City Comptroller Scott Stringer has recommended that the NYPD cut $1.1 billion in spending over four years -- roughly $265 million per year -- by reducing the number of uniformed officers through attrition, cutting down overtime, and lowering OTPS costs.

Stringer, who like Johnson is a Democrat running for mayor in next year’s election, called for those savings to be reinvested in communities that have been particularly hurt by structural racism and police violence. “Breaking down structural racism in New York City will require long-term, lasting change — and that must include reducing the NYPD’s budget,” Stringer said, in part, in a statement.

Stringer’s office says the comptroller is calling for a 5% cut in the NYPD’s planned fiscal year 2021 operating budget, while “the mayor is proposing a mere 0.31 percent cut” from the $5.9 billion sum.

Queens City Council Member Donovan Richards, who chairs the public safety committee that has oversight of the NYPD, said the Council is “finally gaining a lot of momentum” to make cuts in areas that they have looked at for years. He particularly noted that police overtime costs – which were as high as the $730 million – should be cut since crime is at or near historic lows and the city is mostly shut down because of the pandemic, and major public events, parades, and sports games have all been cancelled. Overtime use and abuse has long been a focus of the Council and fiscal watchdogs, particularly because the department does not report on overtime spending in a transparent manner. 

Even before the protests of this last week, the Council had been pushing for reallocating funds from the NYPD to youth programs as part of its vision for how to respond to the massive drop in tax revenue brought on by the coronavirus crisis. At a budget hearing, Richards said the city should cancel an incoming NYPD class, which he estimated could save $25 million. The city had delayed the class to July, saving about $6 million. 

“What is the city’s priority? To lock people up or find young people a job in the summer so they can in a lot of cases help their parents pay the bills and also be self-sufficient?,” he wondered. “Idle time is the devil’s playground. We don’t want our young people ending up in the justice system, especially in the hardest hit communities…during this pandemic.”

Richards also raised a concern that the mayor himself acknowledged on Sunday. There are functions that the NYPD shouldn’t necessarily play, Richards noted, such as community development and school safety. “Is this the message that we want to send to our children? That when they go to get their education, that they should be policed?” he said. 

In his announcement on Sunday, de Blasio said his recently created Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity would examine roles in city governance where the NYPD can be removed. He also said the police would no longer conduct enforcement over street vendors and instead that function would be given to a civilian agency.

The “NYC Budget Justice Campaign,” which is led by police reform groups and has been organizing around defunding the NYPD, writes that “While a cut of over $1 billion may sound dramatic, it would simply return the NYPD’s budget to roughly 2014 levels — a moment when crime rates had already plummeted in New York City.” The police department’s current roughly $6 billion budget, the campaign notes, “is larger than what we spend on health, homeless services, youth development, and workforce development combined.”

Money earmarked for the police should be shifted to summer youth employment, “education, homeless services, mental health services, programs for the aging, community-based organizations, and provide direct support to frontline and essential workers, and undocumented New Yorkers,” the campaign says. The funding to be shifted can be found through an NYPD hiring freeze; cancelling new cadet classes; shifting social service work from the police department to more appropriate agencies; firing “many” of the “220 NYPD officers currently on modified duty,” and more.

Richards also predicted that once state Civil Rights Law section 50-a is repealed or reformed and disciplinary records of police officers are made public, the department will be quicker to dismiss officers with records of misconduct and, therefore, will automatically reduce the amount of money that goes to settling lawsuits. In response to the recent protests, de Blasio has pledged to speed up the NYPD’s notoriously slow and secretive disciplinary process.

Ana Champeny, director of city studies at Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog, said it’s hard to figure out how the NYPD spends its funds because its budget is opaque to the public.

“Looking at the budget doesn’t actually tell you why overtime is going up or what it’s even being spent on,” she said. The Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget does publish a “budget function analysis” that outlines different functions of NYPD spending but they are broad lumped categories with brief descriptions that cover hundreds of millions in allocations. 

They include categories such as administration ($637 million), chief of department ($943 million), patrol ($1.6 billion), school safety ($331 million), transit ($246 million), transportation ($227 million), intelligence and counterterrorism ($189 million), and allocations to different bureaus such as the detective bureau ($572 million), criminal justice bureau ($63 million), and housing bureau ($204 million). 

The budget function analysis is also separate from “units of appropriation,” which show the purpose for which funds are allocated to a certain agency. According to the annual Mayor’s Management Report, there are only eight units of appropriation under NYPD personnel services and six units of appropriation under OTPS. In FY 2019, for instance, the “operations” unit of appropriation under personnel services covered $3.5 billion of the department’s budget for nine of the functions included in the budget function analysis.

“Whenever we’re asked, what’s driving the growth, it’s really hard to say because we don’t have the disaggregated spending data being published,” she added, “and that should be publicly available in a machine-readable format so that people can really see what was it that you thought you were going to spend on each of these areas at the beginning in your budget and what did you actually spend.” 

Champeny echoed Richards’ and Stringer’s prescriptions on cutting overtime and reducing the NYPD’s headcount. CBC released a report in 2017 that noted that uniformed agencies’ overtime costs over the previous nine years exceeded projections in the adopted budget by an average of 42%. Uniformed NYPD officers earned an average of 19% in overtime pay each year, CBC estimated at the time. The nonprofit recommended several measures to cut down on overtime, though some would require bargaining with police unions to change work rules.

“We’re in the middle of what we think is going to be the biggest fiscal and economic crisis of our generation so the city really needs to be taking a close look at everything,” Champeny said. “Everyone really should be trying to see where they can tighten their belt especially given that we don’t know how this recovery will play out and whether the projections that we have right now will end up being accurate.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget Tue, 09 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Privilege Trumps Priority in Black and Brown Communities, Again https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9298-privilege-priority-coronavirus-black-brown-communities-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9298-privilege-priority-coronavirus-black-brown-communities-new-york-city Donovan Richards

Council Member Donovan Richards, the author (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


The lack of coronavirus testing sites in poor communities and particularly communities of color is costing black and brown New Yorkers their lives. There is no clearer example of institutional racism than the different infection and mortality rates during this crisis. It is a scar on our nation and our city. In areas of New York City that already experience the highest rates of asthma, diabetes, and other underlying conditions, this virus has already proven to be a death sentence.

Furthermore, it is people of color who are the essential workers keeping society going in this incredibly challenging time. But as the state and city grapple in the near future with restarting the economy, communities of color already starved for capital because of institutional insidiousness will rebound at a slower pace and face greater challenges.

Proactive measures such as identifying those who have the coronavirus but are asymptomatic and those who are free of the virus will prove critical in flattening the curve in the hardest hit areas of our city and giving us a fighting chance. Every country that has managed this crisis has done so with mass testing. This is step one in rebounding. We must contain the virus to stop the spread, and monitor the virus to turn the corner.

This is why leaders throughout our city are calling on the de Blasio administration to immediately ramp up testing, and it must be done in communities of color first given that so many of our neighbors are those who’ve been commuting to work while so many others stay home.

How is it that neighborhoods from Corona to Southeast Queens to the Rockaways have not one testing site?

We know who has found it is easy to get tested. The wealthy and well-connected, professional athletes, TV personalities, and many others, but sadly average Americans risk their health waiting in line for the limited testing available to less powerful New Yorkers.

We live in the epicenter and we are not testing. The outrage has no words. It is a scandal and it is costing us lives. Imagine if the epicenter were only in Manhattan? We would be testing door-to-door, with federal, state, and city focus unlike what we’ve seen.

Your socio-economic status shouldn’t determine whether you have access to a COVID-19 test. Frankly it shouldn’t determine the quality of your health care. But the reality right now is the difference between life and death.

And while I won’t pretend to be an expert who knows all the solutions for how to defeat COVID-19, I don’t have to be to look at the places that have successfully contained the virus and know what essential steps seem clear. New York should look to Taiwan and Germany, for example, and move quickly to emulate them.

Their successes have largely hinged on effective testing and tracking strategies. The more micro-data we have as a city, the better our chances of defeating COVID-19.

This is why universal testing for all must be taken more seriously by the de Blasio administration. So far the mayor has been reluctant to expand testing, because of a limited supply coupled with his belief that more testing will increase the spread of the virus in neighborhoods due to more symptomatic people traveling outside the home. The argument doesn’t hold up well when hospitals are being overwhelmed by people rightfully showing up at their doors begging to be tested. If you don’t believe me try visiting Elmhurst, Jamaica, or St. John’s Hospitals, among others.

The administration’s wishful thinking and calls for social distancing won’t stem the tide for black and brown communities, who often don’t have the luxury of isolating in a separate bedroom from other family members.

For those of us who grew up or are growing up now in a one-bedroom apartment with several family members in limited space, it isn’t hard to understand that everyone in many households have been compromised when an infected person is instructed to just go or stay home.

This especially endangers our vulnerable seniors, and this is why we must know who is infected but asymptomatic immediately. This can only be achieved through testing.

The bottom line is that without universal testing for all, this pandemic will be slow to recede tremendously in the most vulnerable corners of our city. And while I recognize that the federal government has been a complete failure, I want to see the city and the state do more. It’s good to hear the mayor and governor say widespread testing will be key to reopening schools and businesses, but we need more testing now in our communities of color.

The racial and ethnic data finally released by the de Blasio administration this week showed terrible if unsurprising disproportionate impact in communities of color, and the response from the mayor was welcome but late and short of what is needed. Black and brown communities need testing now.

In the face of the damning racial and ethnic data released by the city and state on Wednesday, the governor’s Thursday announcement that new testing sites in communities of color, including two in Queens, will open next week is welcome, though they will be by appointment only.

Resources such as access to food and rental assistance must also be concentrated in underserved communities. Anything less is not an option, if we want to successfully flatten the curve and save the lives of every New Yorker in our city.

Eventually, when the smoke clears and our city returns to any semblance of normalcy, there will be no shortage of public hearings and legislative packages passed at all levels of government. The government must be focused on demographic data and increase spending to improve the quality of life in low-income communities now and in the aftermath of this crisis.

Otherwise, the city will be incapable of ever stopping the spread of any virus that finds itself in the so-called progressive capital of the world. Because as the old saying goes, when America gets a cold, communities of color get pneumonia.

***
City Council Member Donovan Richards represents parts of Queens. On Twitter @DRichards13.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Privilege Trumps Priority in Black and Brown Communities, Again Thu, 09 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New Queens Borough President Special Election Date - Same as Party Primaries - Causes Confusion for Candidates, Officials https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9265-new-special-election-date-queens-borough-president-candidates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9265-new-special-election-date-queens-borough-president-candidates mashup six

(l-r top) Richards, Crowley, Constantinides, (bottom) Quinn, Yin, Miranda


After being postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Queens Borough president special election was rescheduled to take place on June 23, causing broad confusion among the candidates running for the seat and likely a logistical headache for election administrators since a separate primary for the position is also set for the same day.

The special election, which was triggered when Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was elected the borough’s district attorney, was originally scheduled for March 24, with an early voting period preceding it. But the winner of the election would only have served till the end of this year. Party primary elections would be held in June, followed by the general election in November, which would determine who serves the remainder of the term, which ends December 31, 2021.

Now, both the special election and the primary are scheduled for the same June date, coinciding with New York’s primary election for congressional and state legislative seats, according to an executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The governor also moved the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 23. The June election will also have the required early voting period (June 13 through June 21).

Special elections are nonpartisan, which means any registered voter can cast a ballot, and candidates do not run on established party lines but must create their own. Primary elections, on the other hand, are “closed” and only allow voters registered with the relevant political party to cast a vote.

But officials have now scheduled for the same day the special election to see who will be Queens Borough President for the rest of the year and the primaries to determine nominees for the November general election that will determine the officeholder for 2021. According to New York City Board of Elections general counsel Steven Richman, this means that voters will receive different ballots depending on their party affiliation, with some eligible to vote in both the special election and the Democratic primary, and some only eligible for the special election. It is unclear if there will be any other party primaries for the seat.

There are six candidates on the special election ballot for Queens Borough President, while the primary ballot has yet to be set. The candidates include City Council Members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides; former City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; retired NYPD Sergeant and police reform advocate Anthony Miranda; former Queens Assistant District Attorney Jim Quinn; and Dao Yin, a community activist. They are all registered Democrats. [Read about their visions for Queens and the role of borough president.]

It’s an unprecedented situation, and the candidates themselves have received little clarity from election authorities. At the same time, the candidates also worry that by June, the coronavirus pandemic will have yet to subside and that voters need easier ways to vote while still staying safe from exposure.

“There’s some ambiguity still,” said Crowley, in a brief phone interview. “I'm confident in my electability as both a candidate in the special and the primary, but I want to know about the rules of fundraising and how you keep two elections separate.”

Crowley said she wants the New York City Board of Elections to make it easier for people to vote, particularly if they’re continuing to mostly shelter at home in June. “I would like to see the Board of Elections give every voter an absentee ballot. They already pay money to send voters information about where they should vote and where their early voting sites are. With that, they should also send them the ballot in case they're not able to go, they can vote by mail.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Constantinides said that votes cast in early voting, which had briefly begun in mid-March before the election was cancelled, should still be counted. He also called on the BOE to automatically mail absentee ballots to every registered Queens voter, rather than have people apply for them as is currently required by law.

Currently, state election law only allows absentee ballots by mail for specific circumstances, and none of them account for the situation currently facing the state. State legislators have proposed expanding the criteria, but their proposals have yet to advance in the Legislature.

Constantinides also called for a new cycle of public matching funds administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The CFB administers the city’s campaign finance programs and candidates are required to file separate spending and fundraising disclosures for each election. It’s unclear how the CFB will be able to monitor campaigns for separate elections held the same day.

In a letter to city and state leaders last week, CFB executive director Amy Loprest recommended that the special election be scheduled for June 23, but with the winner serving the remainder of the term through December 2021. She insisted that the administration of two elections set for the same day would be a nightmare and would also confuse voters. “The recordkeeping that will be required of candidates, and the subsequent CFB audit of expenditures, will be borderline unmanageable,” she said.

Miranda echoed those concerns. “They're going to have to relax the absentee ballot process and ensure that everybody is getting an absentee ballot at home,” he said. He also criticized the “lack of clarity” from election officials about the rules governing two simultaneous elections. “You cut down the ability for candidates to communicate with the constituents, and you have no clarity in the message of health or the rules and regulations that govern this particular campaign,” he said.

“The health of voters and poll workers remains our primary concern, and moving the election is a way that will help us accomplish that,” said Council Member Richards, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “But we also need to educate voters on the process for this election, which requires guidance from the Board of Elections and the Campaign Finance Board. Elections are a crucial component of our democracy, and we must ensure that they are conducted properly.”

Quinn praised the governor’s decision to reschedule the election. “This is an incredibly trying time for our nation, our city, and in particular, our home borough of Queens, which continues to be a hot spot in the Coronavirus outbreak,” he said. “More than 10,000 of our friends, family and neighbors have contracted COVID-19 and more than 200 Queens residents have lost their lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this virus. As we navigate this ‘new normal,’ we will continue to make the health and safety of New Yorkers our top priority and do our part to stop the spread. I have no doubt that we will emerge from this stronger than ever and more united in support of a strong, safe and healthy New York.”

[Read: In Special Election, Borough President Candidates Offer Different Visions for Queens]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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New Queens Borough President Special Election Date - Same as Party Primaries - Causes Confusion for Candidates, Officials Tue, 31 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Offering Different Visions for Queens, Borough President Candidates Face New June Special Election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9258-different-visions-queens-borough-president-candidates-new-special-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9258-different-visions-queens-borough-president-candidates-new-special-election Constantinides Richards City Council Queens

Council Members Constantinides, left, & Richards (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases skyrocketed in the city this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to cancel the special election for Queens Borough President that was scheduled to conclude March 24.

Early voting had already begun in the special election to fill a vacancy that was created when the former officeholder, Melinda Katz, was elected Queens District Attorney. A spokesperson for the mayor said that “pending state approval,” the city will reschedule the election – along with another special election for the City Council’s District 37 seat, which was set for late April, – for June 23, when state and congressional primaries are slated to take place.

The winning candidate in each of the two special elections would serve the remainder of the term, through December 2021, rather than having to run for reelection in a primary and general this year, as had been required before the coronavirus outbreak.

On Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he is postponing the April 28 presidential primary election and special elections set for that date, including the Council District 37 election, to all coincide with the June 23 primaries, though the executive order did not mention the Queens Borough President election. Then on Sunday, Cuomo signed another executive order moving the Queens Borough President special eleciton to June 23 as well, and clarifying candidate eligibility.

"The special election in the City of New York to fill the vacancy in the Office of Borough President of Queens is rescheduled for June 23, 2020," the executive order states. "Only candidates who were eligible to appear on the ballot for the March 24, 2020 special election shall appear on the ballot for the June 23, 2020 special election."

Like other elections set for June 23, there will be an early voting period from Saturday June 13 through Sunday June 21, with a day of no voting on Monday June 22, followed by the election day of June 23. There is some discussion in Albany of allowing all voters to vote by mail, but nothing has advanced yet. But there's a catch: as of now, on those same June dates, there will be both the special election for Queens Borough President to see who holds the seat for the rest of 2020 and the party primaries to nominate candidates for the November general election that will determine the officeholder for 2021.

The Queens Borough President Race
The election is a six-way contest among sitting City Council Members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides; former City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; retired NYPD Sergeant and police reform advocate Anthony Miranda; former Queens Assistant District Attorney Jim Quinn; and Dao Yin, a community activist with corporate experience.

The special election scheduled for March was to be nonpartisan, with any registered voter in the borough able to cast a ballot; candidates were not running on established party lines and each created their own party name to appear on the ballot. Whichever candidate received the most votes was to win, no matter the percentage -- there is no run-off and ranked-choice voting, which was approved by voters by ballot referenda last year, does not go into effect until 2021.

These rules will be recreated for June, so all Queens voters would be able to participate in the borough president special election. But if officials keep the party primaries for Queens Borough President at the same time, only party-affiliated voters will be able to participate in that one of the two concurrent borough president elections.

One factor that none of the candidates could have accounted for is the disruption currently rippling across the city because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before the election was suspended, candidates were already reeling and drastically altering their campaigning strategies. On March 14, Governor Cuomo did sign an executive order suspending the ballot petitioning process while also cutting the signature requirement to 30% of the threshold.

The six candidates in the special election are seeking to represent a borough of more than 2 million people, nearly half of whom were born outside the United States. Gotham Gazette interviewed five of the six candidates over the phone – Dao Yin’s campaign did not respond to inquiries – and they mostly agreed that the main issues that Queens voters care about are affordable housing, transit, environmental protection, public safety and criminal justice, and job growth.

Queens, as is the case with the entire city, is struggling with an affordability crisis that threatens to drive out low-income residents, particularly in communities of color, as gentrification continues in a number of neighborhoods. About 85% of the borough has limited if any access to subway lines, with large portions considered public transit deserts. Parts of the borough continue to feel the devastating impact of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, with homeowners facing rising ocean water and flood insurance rates. The borough will also eventually house a new jail, approved as part of the Rikers Island closure plan, which was part of what brought criminal justice and pre-trial justice issues to the forefront in last year’s Queens District Attorney race. The massive Sunnyside Yard development plan is beginning to gain steam and will be a key project for the next borough president to monitor and influence.

The borough president does not hold the same power as an elected legislator on all those issues but the office offers a prominent bully pulpit, depending on how it’s wielded, among other defined and fungible resources. Borough presidents play a significant role in influencing land use decisions but do not have a binding vote. They control millions of dollars in capital funding every year for infrastructure projects like schools, parks, libraries, and bike lanes. They appoint members of community boards, who also play an advisory role in local land use decisions. And they have the ability to sponsor legislation before the City Council, though they cannot vote on that either. The borough president sits on the Pension Board of Trustees and appoints a member to the citywide Panel for Educational Policy, as well as members to local Community Education Councils and a member to the City Planning Commission. Mostly, the borough president is the borough’s community liaison, advocate, defender, ombudsperson, and cheerleader, all wrapped in one.

The candidates Gotham Gazette spoke with -- interviews that occurred just before the coronavirus outbreak took over the city and postponed the special election -- outlined different visions for the role and how they’d use it to help Queens residents.

Richards: “I’ve led on each one of these issues.”
Though there’s been no public polling in the race, some consider City Council Member Richards the frontrunner after he was endorsed by the Queens County Democratic Party and many Queens elected officials at various levels of government. He has since been backed by leaders of the Brooklyn Democratic Party as well and prominent unions including the United Federation of Teachers and the Hotel Trades Council.

Richards has represented District 31, which covers Southeast Queens and Far Rockaway, in the Council since 2013. His borough president campaign pitch is not so much about what he would do for the borough but rather what he has already done as a member of the City Council.

In his seven years in the Council, he has served as chair of the environmental protection committee, the zoning and franchises committee, and the public safety committee. “Everybody will talk about climate change. They'll talk about the need for housing, they talk about safety. And over the course of the last six years, I've led on each one of these issues,” he said. He ticked off pieces of his record: helping coauthor the city’s OneNYC sustainability plan to fight climate change, spearheading the Downtown Far Rockaway rezoning, which he worked with the de Blasio administration on and is already bearing fruit, and the Peninsula Hospital rezoning (a private plan yet to be approved), and securing $2 billion in funding for infrastructure in his community.

“We've shown over the course of the last six years that we are ready to make sure every corner of Queens feels represented,” he said.

Richards prides himself on being able to meet people in the middle on issues. It’s what defines his approach to public safety and policing. He’s played a prominent role in the Council’s efforts to reform the NYPD and drastically reduce marijuana summonses, while also negotiating with the administration to build a new $94 million police precinct in his district. He asks pointed questions of NYPD officials while chairing oversight and legislative hearings, but always appears ready to find common ground with department leaders. At the same time, he has been outspoken about wanting to see more accountability for officers who unjustly harm civilians, particularly in instances where black men have been killed or injured by police.

Somewhat controversially, Richards hasn’t shied away from real estate donations, which some of the other candidates have eschewed as have progressive Democrats more broadly in recent elections. He insists that real estate developers need to be at the table as the city seeks to build more affordable housing. He also noted that he’s been a strong supporter of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, the change in land use policy that mandated that developers create affordable housing when they receive allowances from the city to build more densely. Richards says he’d never be beholden to campaign contributions  and pointed out that he’s the only candidate who turned in people who actually tried to bribe him. “We can't be bought,” he said.

“My integrity can never be compromised. Every developer knows when they come to my desk that we're going to drive a hard bargain,” he added.

With land use being one of the main areas where the borough president can play a prominent role, Richards says he will create a zoning task force and ramp up the land use division at Queens Borough Hall to look at corridors of the borough to create more density, infrastructure, retail development, and wraparound services. “One of the things that's held city planning back from moving more aggressively is the belief of community opposition everywhere. So if the community comes up with the plan...we can lead the conversation,” he said. 

Richards is also among the candidates who lament the failure of the short-lived deal to bring an Amazon satellite campus and a promised 25,000 jobs to Queens. The deal caused a rift among elected officials and among labor unions – those who supported it pointed to the jobs and revenue it would have created, while those that opposed it criticized the billions in subsidies offered by the city and state and Amazon’s anti-union record, among other things. “The subsidy is a hook for accountability,” Richards said. “It’s no different than when we do affordable housing and a developer comes and says I want a 40-year tax abatement. That’s a hook. They need my approval.”

Constantinides: “I really believe that we can transform how the borough president can interact with the residents of Queens.”
City Council Member Constantinides represents District 22, which includes Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside.

Environmental issues are top of mind for Constantinides, who has been the chair of the Council’s environmental protection committee since 2015. He has sponsored and passed 35 environmental protection bills in six years, a record that earned him the endorsement of the Sunrise Movement NYC. His achievements include the landmark Climate Mobilization Act, a version of a “Green New Deal” for New York City, passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor last year, that mandates massive greenhouse gas emissions reductions, particularly from the largest buildings that contribute about 70% of all emissions in the city, and retrofitting for environmentally-friendly energy use.

His borough president platform reflects that priority – he has proposed a “Green New Queens” plan that would create 50,000 new green jobs and double green spaces in ten years; utilize capital funding to install green roofs and solar panels on city buildings; close dirty power plants in the borough by 2025; and also appoint a resiliency czar as a new Deputy Borough President for Sustainability. 

He also wants to transform Rikers Island into a “renewable energy island” as the city debates uses for the site after the jail complex eventually shuts down. As a supporter of the state’s recent criminal justice reforms (limiting cash bail, enhancing speedy trial, and discovery reforms), he also linked the closure of Rikers to the plague of environmental injustice. “The same communities that have been over-policed have also had power plants put in their backyard,” he said, noting that fixing one would help to fix the other.

Constantinides wants to expand the borough president’s constituent reach by following Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s lead in reforming the community board appointments process and creating satellite offices across the borough. “We’re the largest borough and yet we are still using an antiquated system to appoint our community board members and an antiquated system to reach out by only having one office of 60 employees on Queens Boulevard. We could look to Gale Brewer’s model as a better one,” he said.

Constantinides’ support for organized labor – he said he would oppose any land use application that lacks a union labor component – is among the reasons he opposed the Amazon deal. “I believe Amazon was a bad deal, from start to finish,” he said. “They tried to come in by not using ULURP. They tried to come in and not have any of their employees unionized. They tried to come in and overwhelm our transit system and gentrify our families out of our neighborhoods. They came with no plan for resiliency.” The powerful Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which had similarly opposed Amazon, endorsed Constantinides for borough president.

Though he insisted he was not criticizing Melinda Katz’s record as borough president, he said the office has too often taken a “backseat” on land use issues. In particular, though he was one of the Council members to approve the de Blasio administration rent-restricted housing policies (mandatory inclusionary housing), he was critical of how MIH has played out.

“I voted for MIH and I believed at the time that MIH was going to be a good step forward. But in practice, it hasn't worked,” he said, noting that the policy gives City Council members the ability to choose one of three affordable housing options and that it hamstrings them from making harder bargains with developers. “It's definitely a plan that needs to be tweaked,” he said. Of note, he has rejected donations from the real estate industry and he also supports Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ proposal to mandate a racial impact study of proposed rezonings.

Constantinides has proposed giving each of the five borough presidents an appointment on the MTA Board, to vociferously advocate for the borough’s transit needs. His opponents have embraced the idea and, shortly after he proposed it, Queens Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes introduced a bill to that effect before the state Legislature.

Crowley: “Queens needs a borough president who fights for the borough’s fair share, and that's something I've been doing my whole life.”
In 2009, Elizabeth Crowley became the first woman and first Democrat to represent City Council District 30, which includes the neighborhoods of Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, and Woodside. She served for nine years on the Council, and was chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services and co-chair of the Women’s Caucus. In 2017, she narrowly lost her seat to Bob Holden, a registered Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged her in the Democratic primary and then defeated her in the general election running on the Republican line.

Crowley’s top campaign priority has been advocating for improving the city’s mass transit system. She’s among the many elected officials to oppose the Queens bus network overhaul that the MTA has proposed (and said it is going back to the drawing board to redo). “Queens, if it was its own city, would be the fourth largest city in the country and we are growing fast, and that infrastructure need has not been met with the growth,” she said. Crowley is advocating for a new commuter train line on the existing freight routes running through Glendale and Maspeth, and wants to expand ferry service to Northeast Queens. Her advocacy for transit was behind the endorsement she received from the Transport Workers Union Local 100.

She also promises to extend that advocacy to land use. The city needs to pursue “transit-oriented development,” which she said was missing from the Downtown Far Rockaway rezoning. “That area of Queens is completely underserved, no transit improvements were [made] with this development,” she said. Crowley’s refused donations from real estate developers, though she has accepted them from members of construction unions. “I'm a trades person first. I was a union member,” she said, referring to her time as a member of D.C. 9 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

As a City Council member, Crowley repeatedly and successfully fought back the closure of firehouses in the borough. She’s also promised to create an anti-Semitism task force to tackle rising hate crimes in the borough. She’s been endorsed by uniformed workers unions including the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the NYPD, among others.

But that doesn’t mean she has a more moderate stance on criminal justice – she supported the closure of the Rikers jails and reopening the Queens House of Detention; she was also a proponent for raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 years old, to prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from being jailed at Rikers and other outcomes.

Since leaving the Council, Crowley has helped lead the 21 in ‘21 initiative, which aims to elect 21 women to the City Council in the 2021 elections, when the entire elected city government will be on the ballot and dozens of Council members are facing term limits, thus opening up their seats. There are currently 12 women in the Council, down from 18 in 2009, and that number could fall even further. There are also no citywide positions held by women; and of the five borough presidents, Gale Brewer also can’t run for reelection (though she plans to pursue her old City Council seat, currently held by Helen Rosenthal, who is running for Comptroller).

That underrepresentation also exists in Queens community boards, an issue that Crowley pledges to fix. “Here we are in the most progressive city, at least we like to think that, in the entire country, and when it comes to women's representation on community boards and legislative bodies, we don't even have a critical mass...Our most local level of government is not reflective of the population it represents,” she said.

As with other candidates, Crowley said she would use the borough president’s pulpit to advocate for more capital dollars to invest in resiliency infrastructure, besides using the funds at her disposal to make improvements to city buildings. “We can be the first county in the state to go carbon neutral...We also need to be more proactive about protecting our shorelines and greening our infrastructure that is already built,” she said.

She added, “I think that there's only $60 million, roughly, in the borough president's budget and if you want to make a larger impact with climate, then you have to partner with the mayor and the governor to bring back sizable resources.”

One issue that other candidates besides Crowley seem to have overlooked is veterans affairs. Queens is home to 58,815 veterans, the most of any borough, and Crowley believes the city has failed them. “The city's not doing enough and our veterans are suffering,” she said. If elected, she intends to re-appoint a veterans’ affairs liaison at Borough Hall to expand access to services. She’ll also factor in veteran status when making community board appointments, she has pledged.

Crowley was also a supporter of the Amazon deal, though she did concede that the company should have worked harder to engage with community residents before attempting to plant its flag in Queens.

Miranda: “I'm the only independent candidate that’s not county-run. I'm not compromised by any special interest.”
“I'm running for Queens Borough President to be able to change the conversation,” said Miranda, a retired NYPD sergeant who is founder and chair of the National Latino Officers Association.

Miranda’s could easily be described as an anti-establishment campaign. “I believe that most of Queens’ residents are fed up with politics as usual,” he said. He emphasized that problems that plague Queens aren’t new and that they can’t be solved by the very people in office who have overseen them for years. “Everything you look at has been an ongoing problem,” he said, whether it’s the lack of affordable housing, a dysfunctional transit system or an unequal criminal justice system. But his biggest gripe was that Queens residents are being left out of the key discussions about their borough on everything, from housing to transit, public safety, criminal justice, and more.

“The borough president is one of the most vocal positions that you can have. You represent all of Queens. You can hold public hearings, you can bring attention to issues, you can organize around issues, so you don't have to be left out of the conversation,” he said.

On the major issues that Queens has faced in the last few years, he said the de Blasio administration and local electeds have ignored the desires of the community while failing to fix the problems that already exist, whether it concerns the borough-based jails plan, the Rockaway rezoning, the Sunnyside Yards proposal, or the Amazon deal.

“We have current crises in all of our borough but we have proposals for billion-dollar projects without fixing the basic things that are still broken,” he said.

He said the Far Rockaway rezoning didn’t do enough to address resiliency infrastructure or transit. “We're going to build the Downtown Rockaway area and then have the rest of the homes float away? We still have families that have not been back in their home since the hurricane. How is that possible? We still have houses that get flooded every time there's a significant rainfall in Far Rockaway. How is that not fixable? We still have transportation deserts where the buses or trains don't even get to. How was that not part of our plan, but we're gonna invest millions in downtown?”

His critical stance on the “luxury development” rampant across the borough, exacerbating the existing displacement pressures that Queens residents feel, is why he is refusing donations from the real estate industry as well. “I think every average person will know that there's a conflict of interest in that kind of taking of money,” he said.

And he criticized the elected officials that approved the mayor’s housing program and have facilitated, in his opinion, the overdevelopment of Queens. “Everybody running for office right now, the elected officials running for office were the cause of the problem,” he said. “Many of them speak to little projects that they did in their communities, in their particular districts, but they're the same people that signed off and approved all the other displacement that's going on, the disenfranchisement, the gentrification of the communities that are all over Queens.”

Quinn: “The prime concern of any public official in New York City should be the safety of the citizens of New York City.”
It’s not surprising that for Quinn public safety is the prime issue in the borough president race. Quinn is the former senior executive assistant district attorney in the Queens DA’s office, where he was second-in-command to the late DA Richard Brown. After Brown’s death, Quinn led the office in the interim.

Quinn separates himself from the field by his positions on criminal justice. A “tough-on-crime” prosecutor, he was the chief spokesperson for the DA’s office in opposing the “terrible idea” to close Rikers Island jails and replace them with borough-based jails – as borough president, he’s vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to try and halt that plan in Queens. Instead, he would like to see the Rikers facilities reformed and rebuilt.

“They could have started this three years ago and rebuilt all the jails on Rikers Island and they'd be done by now,” he said. “Because they don't have to fight communities. They don't have to fight the community boards. They don't have to go through the ULURP system. They don't have to go through all these other machinations that they now have to do.” Quinn has also advocated against what he calls the recent “irresponsible and reckless” criminal justice reforms adopted by the state, like on bail.

“I decided to run because I wanted to make a difference in this race and I wanted to make sure that these issues were addressed, and that they're addressed intelligently, not just in chants and slogans,” he said.

He cited the uptick in crime numbers reported by the NYPD early this year after the state’s bail reform took effect as a major cause of concern. However, there has been some debate about whether the numbers can be fairly judged in such a short time frame. Quinn brushed that aside. “There was no debate about the numbers when it showed crime going down,” he said.

Though he is a registered Democrat, he has been endorsed by the Queens County Republican Party and the Conservative Party. The New York City Correction Officers Benevolent Association backed him, as did the aforementioned City Council Member Holden, who unseated Crowley in 2017.

Whether on housing, transit, or economic development, Quinn said the conversations tend to be derailed by politicians pandering to interest groups and by a lack of reasonable debate. “I don't think we have realistic, rational discussions about issues in New York City anymore. It's all fighting and yelling at one another,” he said.

One example he cited is the Amazon deal, which he supported. “New York City and that raucous, loud group was able to drive out a business that would have created 25,000 high-paying jobs,” he said, referring to the elected officials, community groups, and advocates who opposed the proposed campus.

Though he said a key role of the borough president is to convene public hearings on everything from the proposed development of Sunnyside Yard or the MTA’s bus redesign proposal, he argued the limits of the office in effecting broader change, on climate change, for instance. “The notion that the Queen's County Borough President is going to have a substantial effect on climate change is fanciful to put it mildly,” he said.

Yin
A former robotics company executive and community activist, Yin worked as a corporate comptroller for 11 years for two fortune 500 companies, according to his campaign website.

Yin’s platform is focused on creating jobs for the borough, while preparing Queens residents for the future of employment. “Technology jobs play a larger role in our lives but maintaining an educated and trained workforce outside of the Technology Industry will be just as important,” his website reads. “We need to plan for the future of work and jobs, and we need a borough led effort to respond to advancements, in a way that protects and honors the role of workers within the work they do.”

Citing the rising costs of living in Queens, Yin pledges to work for the improvement of working families in the borough. He particularly noted that the loss of the 25,000 jobs that the Amazon deal would have brought with it “should not have happened.”

“Dao Yin is determined to work with the large corporations to bring back those jobs to Queens by working with its communities and showing its residents how they would benefit from such windfalls. Dao believes that if the public understands the benefit they would support the job creation,” his platform reads.

He also says he tackle the borough’s transit and homelessness issues, though he seems more focused on so-called “quality of life” problems. “Quality of Life issues should take precedence and homeless people living on our streets and corners should not be an issue that residents should have to settle for in their everyday lives,” his platform states. He would push for a 10% City Rent Tax Credit for households under a certain income threshold and promote homeownership programs.

He would also push for improvement to the borough’s bus and subway systems, and supports the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain project as a key job creator.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated to reflect the June election set by the governor.

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Offering Different Visions for Queens, Borough President Candidates Face New June Special Election Sun, 29 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000