Queens borough president candidates promise to increase community board diversity

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Photo: Max Parrott/QNS

The six declared candidates for Queens borough president may have very different objectives for the office, but according to a recent candidates forum, they all have one thing in common: they would deviate from current Borough President Melinda Katz.

At the candidate forum on Saturday, Nov. 23, hosted by the Queens Coordination Council and Queens Community House in Forest Hills, the six candidates each took the opportunity to explain how their vision for the office would go further than that of the district attorney-elect.

When asked for one thing that Borough President Katz has done that they agree with, and one thing that they disagree with, candidates did not hold back in their criticism.

One consistent opinion in almost all the answers was that Katz did not do enough to make sure that community boards are diverse enough to represent the borough. 

The six candidates who have so far filed to run include former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, City Councilmen Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer and Costa Constantinides, Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman and retired President of the Latino Officers Association Anthony Miranda. The candidates are competing in a special election to take over the rest of Katz’s term ending in at the close of 2021.

The role of borough president involves a number of advisory functions on land use and the municipal budget process in the form of the disbursement of millions of dollars per year from the city’s annual discretionary capital budget to organizations and projects in the borough.

It also has an important role in the appointment of community board members. At the beginning of the year, the office encourages constituents to apply for open spots and then advises each council member in finalizing all appointments. These efforts are designed to create a pool of candidates that reflect diversity in the borough.

Richards started by praising Katz for collaborating with other elected officials in order to make sure that her budget complemented their projects. But he said that the borough president needs to enact term limits to ensure there’s more turnover in community board positions, and increase diversity. 

“I think she could have looked at those numbers to make sure that community boards have public housing members on them,” said Richards.

Crowley talked about being more bold than Katz on transportation, using the question as an opportunity to plug her idea for resuscitating the QNS line, an 8.5-mile stretch of railway which connects Jamaica Station to Court Street Station.

As the only elected official who endorsed decarceral district attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán, Van Bramer emphasized his antagonistic relationship to the political establishment in the Queens Democratic party. He said that in community board appointments and the allocation of funding in the borough, decisions need to be made on conversations with the community rather than political favors or relationships.

Miranda claimed that if the borough president’s office made an effort to be more transparent and accountable, it would help diversify the community board appointments. 

In addition to agreeing that the community boards were not sufficiently diverse, Constantinides said that Katz had missed the opportunity to build a holistic 20-century transportation system and build satellite offices in remote neighborhoods – two pillars of his campaign platform.

Hyndman used her time to frame herself as an advocate of small businesses. She said that the borough president needs to play a central role making sure that redevelopment of LaGuardia and JFK includes benefits to small and minority-woman-owned businesses.