Queens Borough President candidate Jimmy Van Bramer released a policy proposal to diversify community boards in Queens, saying he’d take “aggressive” steps to ensure the borough’s 14 advisory boards better reflect the communities they serve.
“Community boards should reflect the diversity of the districts they represent, but the reality is they’re dominated by those who don’t,” Van Bramer said. “The combination of a lack of term limits for board members and the historic pattern of reappointing members has had a net effect of sidelining younger, BIPOC, immigrant, and queer voices. As Borough President I’d take aggressive steps to make sure Queens community boards truly represent the people they serve.”
Community boards are made up of volunteers who serve important advisory roles for a variety of local issues and plans. Members are appointed by the Borough President’s office and recommended by local City Council members.
Van Bramer cited a report by the Queens Daily Eagle that found senior residents are overrepresented in community boards across the borough, with nearly two-thirds of all board members in Queens older than 55 and only seven board members younger than 25. Queens community boards also have racial and gender disparities, according to an accompanying report by the Eagle.
The Long Island City councilman, who’s term-limited, has been committed to diverse recommendations for Community Boards 1 and 2 in western Queens during his time in office. But Van Bramer says that as a result of long-standing practices, boards “skew more conservative” with longtime members dominating discussions around issues like climate change, bike lanes and parking, affordable housing, homeless shelters, among others.
Community board representation was a major topic in last year’s election for Queens borough president, which Van Bramer was a candidate for before dropping out due to family reasons. Donovan Richards eventually won the election and took office in December 2020.
Richards also promised to make the boards more inclusive and representative of their communities. This year, the borough president’s office launched its first online application and engaged in outreach efforts to gather a diverse pool of applicants for community boards. The office then announced it had a record number of applicants, a 56 percent increase from the year before.
But Van Bramer says more applicants doesn’t guarantee a more diverse board or that new members will be able to rise to leadership positions. To address representation concerns, Van Bramer presented multiple measures he’d take if elected Queens Borough President.
The first measures includes immediately eliminating automatic reappointments, so board members won’t be automatically reappointed after their two-year terms are up, as well as recognizing term limits ahead of New York City’s charter-mandated changes by encouraging members who served more than 10 years to “step aside” and not reappointing members who served more than 15 years.
Van Bramer also wants all boards to have gender equity and be truly representative of BIPOC, immigrant, LGBTQ/Queer, public housing and working class communities.
He proposes all community boards have term limits for chairs and other executive board positions; detailed and professional job descriptions for all employees, including the district manager, along with an annual review process; and a diversity, equity and inclusion committee to deal with external and internal matters.
Van Bramer proposes the borough president’s office create an independent screening panel made up of good government groups to review and recommend applicants for the job of board members, and have the office conduct outreach to recruit new members beyond making the application accessible online.
Van Bramer also wants the city to enforce ethics rules to ensure board members are complying and reporting their conflicts of interest. He also wants the city to better fund community boards so they are able to function without having to fundraise.
There are currently six candidates running for Queens Borough President, including Van Bramer, Richards, former Councilwoman and Queens Borough President candidate Elizabeth Crowley, community activist Stan Morse, long-time Queens resident Diana Sanchez and mapmaker Danniel Maio.
The Democratic primary will take place on June 22, and the general election is set for Nov. 22.