Year in review: Queens’ top political stories of 2021

Voting booths at the Dayton Tower West polling site in Rockaway Park on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

Despite hoping all would be back to normal after 2020, COVID-19 was still the prime coverage of 2021. However, Queens saw many changes with new political leaders taking the reins to steer us through this uncertain time.

Here is a look back at the top political stories of 2021 as we move ahead into the new year.

Incumbent Donovan Richards wins borough president race

In November, incumbent Donovan Richards won the borough president race, beating out Republican opponent Thomas Zmich. Richards was previously elected in July of 2021 during a special election after his predecessor Melinda Katz became the Queens district attorney. 

Zmich made headlines after Gothamist released a report stating he, along with NYPD and other public officials, were tied to the far right, anti-government group, Oath Keepers. However, Zmich said he has not been a member for over three years. 

Astoria councilwoman makes history as first queer Latina to serve District 22

Tiffany Cabán was sworn in to represent District 22 in the New York City Council on Dec. 1. (Photo credit: Corey Torpie)

Perhaps one of the most high-profile City Council candidate this year, Tiffany Cabán, garnered the support of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders for the seat. Cabán is the first Latina and queer woman to serve as Council member for District 22 representing Astoria, Rikers Island and parts of Jackson Heights, Woodside and East Elmhurst. 

Then-candidate Cabán ran a progressive campaign focusing on ending the carceral system, establishing a care economy and implementing a Green New Deal for New York City. 

The councilwoman previously served as a public defender and ran for Queens district attorney in 2019, narrowly losing to Melinda Katz. 

Queens ‘excluded workers’ celebrate historic funding in state budget deal

Excluded workers end their 23-day hunger strike after funding for their cause was included in the state budget deal. (Courtesy of MRNY)

After almost a year of civil disobedience in the form of hunger strikes and protests, a coalition of over 200 New York nonprofit groups secured $2.1 billion in funds on behalf of workers excluded from previous government aid programs.

The state budget deal included the $2.1 billion of excluded workers, mainly undocumented immigrants who have not received stimulus checks of unemployment benefits during the pandemic, even though they pay taxes each year. 

The fund opened applications in August, and over $2 billion has already gone out the door to families in need. Now that there is no money left in the fund, lawmakers encourage Gov. Kathy Hochul to invest an additional $3 billion to the New York State Excluded Workers Fund. 

State Senator Jessica Ramos, an original advocate for the fund, called on Hochul to make more aid available to families before the holidays. 

“We saw how this fund pumped important money into our small business,” Ramos said. “We helped our immigrants catch up on their bills, pay their rent, buy school supplies for their kids, put food on the table. We didn’t just hold this city down during the pandemic; we built this city. It is the immigrant workforce that has always made this city happen.”

Queens officials offer assistance to residents impacted by Hurricane Ida

Congresswoman Grace Meng surveys trash piles in Fresh Meadows following Hurricane Ida. (Photo courtesy of Meng’s office)

Hurricane Ida swept through the Northeast in early September, killing 13 people in New York City, 11 of which were Queens residents. Shortly after the storm passed, Queens and state officials worked to get people the help they needed. 

Congresswoman Grace Meng along with Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others surveyed the damage. 

In Hollis Hills on 183rd Street, Richards joined Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Kathy Hochul and others to see the basement apartment where a mother and son lost their lives.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) quickly opened a Disaster Recovery Center at Queens College in Flushing to assist residents affected by the hurricane. Meng advocated for the center after her constituents suffered devastating losses.

About a month after the tragedy, state Senator Jessica Ramos and Schumer followed up on FEMA claims made by East Elmhurst residents who had not yet received aid. 

Adrienne Adams ‘clinches’ Council speaker race

Councilwoman Adrienne Adams delivers remarks at Queens Borough Hall. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Councilwoman Adrienne Adams declared victory Friday, Dec. 17, in the race for City Council speaker.

Earlier in the week, Adams and her contender Councilman Francisco Moya both claimed to have strong coalitions of support to secure the speakership. However, Adams made history with a majority of women serving on the Council for the first time ever.

“I am honored to have earned the support and the trust of my colleagues to be their Speaker,” Adams said. “Our coalition reflects the best of our city. We are ready to come together to solve the enormous challenges we face in order to not just recover from COVID but to build a better, fairer city that works for everyone.”