Queens Borough President Melinda Katz gave the State of the Borough Address on Jan. 26 in Astoria, where she outlined achievements during her first term and a wish list of items she’d like to see accomplished by 2030.
Katz, who was elected to a second term as borough president in 2017, gave her speech at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. She was introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer, who praised her “amazing record” as assemblywoman and Councilwoman during the ’90s and early 2000s.
Schumer also spoke about the borough’s diversity and alluded to the battle occurring in Washington over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and nationwide immigration policy.
“It is so diverse,” he said. “It represents the best of America. It represents immigrants and we are telling President Trump and all of them, ‘Don’t pick on them. They are the greatest part of America. They are our future.'”
Katz, who was dressed in all black to support the #MeToo movement, began by addressing the political climate and how it has affected Queens residents. She said the past year has “challenged” every person to think about what it means to be an American.
“The 21,000 DACA-eligible individuals in Queens grew up as American as my own kids, and they ask for nothing more than to be law-abiding citizens in the only country they know to be their home,” she added.
She outlined the achievements accomplished during her first term such as the revitalization of Downtown Jamaica, the continued recovery from Superstorm Sandy, an 8.8 percent increase in jobs since 2013, universal pre-K, a satellite office for the Department of Veterans Affairs, an increase in tourism, the removal of 77 classroom trailers and more.
The Queens Borough President’s office also allocated nearly $300 million for capital projects throughout the borough. According to Katz, $41 million was allocated to 354 public schools (kindergarten through 12th grade), and CUNY schools received $23 million for new construction and upgrades.
In total, 57 borough parks received almost $100 million and hospitals and health centers also received $22 million. NYCHA and Housing Preservation and Development projects received $17 million from the borough president’s office.
Katz said these investments will set a “roadmap” and build “the infrastructure for the future.”
The borough president has set ambitious goals starting with more funding and additional school seats for the borough with the most overcrowded schools. According to Katz, Queens also receives the lowest amount of funding per pupil.
“So we have the most kids, but get the least amount to educate per kid,” she said.
The School Construction Authority dedicated more than $1.9 billion dollars to create 18,632 new school seats by 2020. But Katz said she would continue to work with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to add more seats. District 24, the most overcrowded school district in Queens, needs 9,400 additional seats to meet demand but only about half of those seats are funded in the February 2017 capital plan, according to a report.
She again mentioned her support for Amazon, which has included Long Island City on its shortlist for a second headquarters, and her efforts to attract more tech jobs to the borough with her Western Queens Strategic Tech Plan.
Katz’s vision for the borough by 2030 includes becoming the first borough to end homelessness among veterans; a branded tourism campaign for Queens; no more Temporary Classroom Units; free 3-K; thousands of affordable housing units for seniors; a new 116th Precinct; protected bike lanes throughout the entire borough; the completed Queens light rail; fully operational LIRR stations in Elmhurst, Long Island City and Willets Point; completed overhauls of JFK and LaGuardia Airports; and tens of thousands of affordable housing units at Willets Point paid for by a professional soccer stadium.
In the immediate future, Katz will create the Queens Complete Count Committee, which will be tasked with “strategizing and maximizing participation in the Census count in 2020.”
“Another Census undercount in New York is not an impossibility,” she said. “But we have so much at stake here in Queens: federal resources for infrastructure, for health services and for our schools, representation by our local elected officials, and more.”
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg formally challenged the 2010 Census count in a press conference in Jackson Heights, arguing that the population numbers in Queens and Brooklyn were incorrect, altering the amount of federal dollars the borough could receive.
“Together, we’ve all brought Queens so far,” she said. “And so much more remains to be done. But with a shared vision, our vision, New York’s greatest potential, opportunities and future are all here.”