Op-Ed: Donovan Richards is the progressive leader Queens needs 



A global pandemic is ravaging New York City and devastating our economy, hitting communities-of-color and immigrant neighborhoods in Queens the hardest. Black people and allies are rising up in the streets to demand systemic changes to decades of racist policing. All this while immigrant communities are also under attack from the White House.

Our communities have lost faith in government and politicians to follow through on their commitments and take care of people. So it’s critical to elect progressive leaders who can rise to this moment. Donovan Richards is the leader Queens needs. We’ve each seen it first-hand, through years of fighting together in the trenches for progressive causes.

From his very first days in office, Donovan has bravely fought for what’s right. Right after he was elected to the City Council in 2012, he was the first Council Member with the courage to sign Gale Brewer’s ‘petition-to-discharge’ legislation to require paid sick days for working New Yorkers, when Mayor Bloomberg and the Council Speaker were bottling it up.

Donovan showed independence in supporting the first Latina speaker after she was not backed by the Queens County Democratic Organization (they were supporting a more moderate white man at the time). Later, he served as Progressive Caucus co-chair. Among many other victories during his tenure, the Caucus helped to lead the fight for “universal free lunch” in our public schools. One result of that fight is the $420 “pandemic EBT” support flowing right now to every NYC public school student to provide access to healthy food while kids are out of school.

As the son of an immigrant father, who worked as a printer and commercial cleaner and is a proud union member, Donovan witnessed the challenges faced by working-class immigrant families. So it’s no surprise that he has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with immigrant communities in Queens. When Ravi Ragbir was facing deportation, Donovan used his position as chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee to demand answers from the NYPD about their collaboration with ICE. When immigrant food delivery workers faced discriminatory enforcement against e-bike drivers, Donovan organized City Council Members to call on Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation legalizing e-bikes.

Throughout his time in the City Council, Donovan has been a leader in the fight for justice in policing. He stood strong and spoke with conviction in the Council’s fight to end stop-and-frisk, talking frankly about his own experiences, and his hopes for his son. As Chair of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, Donovan was one of the first Council Members, even before the killing of George Floyd, to call for a budget with real cuts to the NYPD. Now he is helping to lead the Council’s fight to cut $1 billion from the NYPD budget, and invest that funding in youth programs, education, mental health, and social services instead.

All the while, Donovan has also fought like hell for his community. He has not been shy to call out the systemic racism reflected in the neglect of Far Rockaway and Southeast Queens. Even if it means standing up to the Mayor. But he also rolls up his sleeves to get the work done.

He zealously oversaw the work for recovery and resilience after Hurricane Sandy, which led him to be a champion on issues of environmental sustainability. He secured more than $1.5 billion for sewer infrastructure, to address the decades-old systemic issue of flooding in Southeast Queens. He helped bring 400 good-paying, union jobs at Bartlett Dairy back to Queens. And he secured over 1000 units of affordable housing in the Rockaways, making sure that every single unit on City-owned land in the rezoning of Far Rockaway will be affordable to neighborhood families.

Since the COVID-19 crisis hit, Donovan has been on the ground delivering PPE, emergency food, and supplies, and also demanding a stronger public health response to save lives, targeted to low-income, Black and immigrant neighborhoods that have been ravaged by the pandemic.

At this moment especially, as we reckon with building a fundamentally fairer city, that is the kind of bold, progressive leadership that working families in Queens deserve.

That’s why Donovan has the support of so many progressive unions and community organizations, including SEIU 1199, SEIU 32-BJ, the New York Hotel Trades Council, DC37, and many more.

For the more than one million immigrants who call Queens home, for Black and Caribbean families in southeast Queens, for progressives who dream of a borough that lives up to our aspirations for justice and equality, and for all our families aspiring to build a stronger borough together out of these hard times, Donovan Richards is the leader Queens needs.

Catalina Cruz is the New York State Assembly Member representing the 39th District, one of the most diverse districts in the nation, which encompasses the Queens neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. She is the first former Dreamer elected to the New York State Legislature. Brad Lander is a New York City Council Member from Brooklyn, and a co-founder of the Council’s Progressive Caucus.