It’s been a difficult few years for Queens, the original “epicenter of the epicenter” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Since this horrific virus first reached our shores, we’ve lost more than 10,000 of our relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers — a collective loss all of us still grieve.
But in the midst of all the uncertainty and pain Queens has faced, we never backed down. We looked out for one another and lifted each other up, volunteering at food pantries, donating personal protective equipment and simply checking in on our neighbors.
The worst days of the pandemic are behind us, but the question now is how do we ensure Queens continues to rise? I believe that’s by working together with that same resolve and determination to help our borough thrive for generations to come.
I gave my State of the Borough address just two months ago, and I spoke at length about the importance of a rapid and equitable Queens comeback.
And as I said that day, we must plant the flag of Queens’ comeback in our healthcare system, as the pandemic exposed just how unequipped and unprepared we really were.
We must start by prioritizing communities who have long suffered from years of deliberate disinvestment from our city, where some residents have to travel more than 10 miles and over an hour away from their homes on public transportation to reach their nearest hospital.
And that’s exactly what my office is hard at work doing. We’re proud to have allocated nearly $19 million in capital dollars to health care facilities across Queens during my tenure. We’ve also secured a commitment from NYC Health + Hospitals to build a Gotham Health facility in Far Rockaway, which will ensure our families along the peninsula have access to the kind of high-quality primary and preventative health care services that so many other communities take for granted.
We need to ensure all of our community members feel and are safe on our streets. We must expand the Cure Violence movement to every corner of Queens and properly support the community organizations doing that work every day. The NYPD has a part to play as well, and the establishment of the 116th Precinct, currently under construction, will help make a difference. And when it comes to the sickening spate of hate crimes plaguing our city, I’m proud to have created a Hate Crimes Task Force, featuring law enforcement, anti-hate activists and community leaders, to develop inclusive solutions to the recent rise in bias crimes.
But in order to feel safer, we must meaningfully address the root causes of crime, like housing and economic insecurity. We’re hard at work flipping that script, though, as hundreds of affordable housing units are coming online from Far Rockaway to Jamaica. And at our two airports, where one multi-billion redevelopment project is nearly done and another is just beginning, we’re creating thousands of good-paying jobs and countless contracting opportunities for local small businesses.
Arguably the biggest threat to our future, however, is climate change. From Sandy to Ida, Queens knows all too well the devastation extreme weather can cause, and never have we needed massive investment in green infrastructure more than we do right now. This means making the Renewable Rikers plan a reality, establishing a ferry to LaGuardia Airport, expanding public transit through projects like the Interborough Express, investing billions in new sewer mains and more.
We’ve made so much progress over the last few years in so many areas, and there is still so much more work to be done. But it’s work I know we can accomplish together, because Queens takes the back seat to no one. Queens leads, and Queens is truly on the rise.
Donovan Richards is the Queens borough president.