Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. discussed his administration’s achievements and further goals during his State of the Borough address Friday at LaGuardia Community College’s Performing Arts Center.
Among the topics he discussed were health care and COVID-19 recovery, hate crimes and public safety, sustainability, transportation, economic development, civic engagement and budget allocations.
Richards praised the borough’s work in getting COVID-19 vaccinations. According to Richards, Queens County was the first county in the state of New York to reach both 1 million and 2 million vaccinations. He said that today, the county’s vaccination rate of 86% is the highest among all New York City boroughs.
Richards revealed he is in the process of trying to create a New York City Office of COVID Recovery. This office would be responsible for streamlining and improving the city’s response to the pandemic.
“We’re more than two years into the pandemic,” Richards said. “We shouldn’t be making the same missteps we made in 2020. There needs to be one person responsible for coordinating our city’s response, not 10 different commissioners testifying before the Council on the same topic.”
He also brought up how his administration was able to get NYC Health + Hospitals Gotham Health to create a location in Far Rockaway and announced construction on the new labor and delivery unit at St. John’s Episcopal will begin in the coming months. During his first two years as QBP, Richards devoted nearly $19 million in capital funding to hospitals across the borough.
Richards announced upcoming programs during his State of the Borough that will be devoted to curbing crime. “Queens Forward” will direct significant money to the borough to invest in the root causes of crime and help build a stronger, fairer borough. Additionally, the “Hate Crimes Task Force,” which will be staffed by law enforcement, community-based organizations, city agencies and other stakeholders, will be responsible for addressing the recent rise in hate crimes.
Richards also touted the monthly series of safety forums he set up between his office, NYPD brass and community leaders. Additionally, he highlighted the establishment of a new 116th Precinct in eastern Queens, relieving strain on the 105th Precinct and helping to reduce response times and improve public safety in the area.
Additionally, Richards called for the closure of Rikers Island, citing that those incarcerated are being failed by the system. He called for reforms to be made to ensure those imprisoned are treated with dignity and provided support upon their release in order to help prevent them from winding up back in jail.
If Rikers Island were to close, Richards expressed the desire to turn that area into a clean power hub. He feels that this transition can be guided by the clean energy organization he established, Operation Urban Sustainability. This group is composed of environmentalists, clean energy leaders, community-based organizations, transit advocates and others responsible for taking a holistic approach toward environmental justice, flood prevention and more.
Richards also celebrated the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a clean energy vessel that will provide water and wind power from Canada to Queens once it’s operational. He also pointed out that his administration allocated over $500,000 to three different Queens schools for the construction of hydroponic farms in the classrooms.
Despite his environmental accomplishments, Richards is still hoping to expand geothermal energy production across the new developments in Queens. He also called upon the Biden administration to provide more infrastructure funding for the purpose of large-scale sewer and water utility projects.
In his State of the Borough, Richards highlighted a $3 million investment in safety measures on the Queensboro Bridge and another $1 million devoted to further improvements along Northern Boulevard and western Queens. He also celebrated the expansion of Jackson Heights’ 34th Avenue Open Street, expressing a desire to replicate that in each corner of the borough.
He also called upon the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to establish a ferry service to LaGuardia Airport and called upon the state and city to also establish a light rail and bus rapid transit service there, too. Additionally, he requested that the MTA expand the Atlantic Ticket discount program for riders to get cheaper and easier access from southeast Queens into areas beyond Brooklyn and Manhattan.
He announced plans to work with New York Governor Kathy Hochul and the MTA in establishing the Interborough Express between Jackson Heights and Bay Ridge.
“By adding passenger service to an old freight rail line connecting Brooklyn and Queens, we can connect thousands of families on either side of the border to new economic opportunities, all while dramatically cutting commute times,” Richards said.
When discussing the topic of economic developments during his State of the Borough address, Richards brought up how he helped to ensure JetBlue kept its headquarters in Queens and mentioned the return of Bartlett Dairy to the borough along with nearly 200 union jobs. He also celebrated the $8 billion redevelopment of LaGuardia Airport into a state-of-the-art facility and $850 million in contracts for small businesses that were given out throughout the project. He also looked ahead to a comprehensive redevelopment of Kennedy Airport.
Richards brought up the success of the Queens Small Business Grant Program as well. This helped connect 757 small businesses in the borough with critical funding during the height of the pandemic. He also announced the creation of the Downtown Improvement Council for the purpose of fast tracking improvements across the area, as well as the establishment of the Queens Tech Fair and Queens Tech Challenge, which would help grow the borough’s emerging tech industry at a faster and more equitable rate.
When it came to the topic of civic engagement, Richards highlighted the satellite office reopening for the NYC Department of Veterans Services at Queens Borough Hall and his legislative efforts to create a city contracting system for veteran-owned businesses. He also championed the progress made to better diversify the 14 community boards so that the diverse community feels better represented.
“Last year’s class of 110 first-time appointees was 62% women and 74% under the age of 45,” Richards said. “This year’s class of 94 first-timers is 39% Black or Latino, 21% parents of school kids, 20% immigrants and 14% Asian Americans. Making our 14 boards look, sound and feel like their communities is a commitment that is ironclad in my office. We have to make sure the halls of government, from City Hall to our community boards, are truly inclusive in every sense of the word.”
Richards also announced “Borough Hall on Your Block,” a series of weeklong initiatives to decentralize the QBP office and better deliver services in individual neighborhoods. He also promoted the Immigrant Welcome Center at Queens Borough Hall, which has served over 400 residents since opening last summer, and the recommended approval of over 1,200 units of affordable housing across the borough. He called on the city to dramatically increase investment in creating affordable housing in Queens.
Finally, Richards announced that more than $130 million has been allocated thus far during his administration. This includes over $22 million for schools, almost $20 million for cultural organizations, $16 million each for libraries and parks and $10 million for CUNY campuses.
“Queens takes a back seat to no one,” Richards said. “We’re building a stronger Queens for all our families. There is no limit to what we can achieve when we work together.”