Donovan Richards officially became the Queens Borough President on Sunday afternoon in a short ceremony outside of Queens Borough Hall.
The former councilmember is the first Black man to hold the office. He is taking the helm at a time when the borough, which was the epicenter of the first wave of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and its residents are struggling to make ends meet during the ongoing public health and economic crises.
During his acceptance speech, Richards acknowledged that the borough is facing a lot of challenges and that the pandemic exposed inequality throughout the borough and the city. But he remained positive about the future of the borough.
“I know that we can overcome these challenges we face because we’ve done it before,” said Richards, referring to the recovery effort that took place after SuperStorm Sandy demolished much of Queens in 2012.
Accompanied by his wife and young son, Richards was sworn by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
Before they began the oath of office, James emphasized how important Richards’s election as the first Black man to the Queens Borough President office is during what she called “a time of racial unrest in our country.”
“As someone once wrote, the strength of a man isn’t in the weight that he can carry but it’s really in the load that he carries on his shoulders. And Donovan has carried the load on his shoulders in the Rockaways and Southeast Queens. He inspires, he empowers, he lifts up people, he supports so many,” said James. “And I cannot stress today what this means for little boys and particularly little boys of color in neighborhoods across Queens who can bear witness to this moment, and know that if they see it, they can dream it, and they can be it –– both academically and professionally. They too can create a life that will carry them forward and upward just as Donovan has done.”
The ceremony was the first of its kind for the office to take place outdoors because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was short and sweet because of the cold, and took place in front of a small but determined crowd of Queens Democrats despite the winter air.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer began his remarks by joking about how short they would be because of the cold. He went on to congratulate Richards and laud him for how far he’s come over the years.
“He will be a great, great borough president. He’s broken another ceiling, and he’ll break many more with the great things he does,” said Schumer.
Queens District Attorney and former Borough President Melinda Katz also congratulated Richards. Borough president is one of the best jobs she’d ever had, she said.
“This is a job where you can make a difference in people’s lives every single day. It’s a job where you make of it what you want. If you want things from certain agencies, to make yourself known, to make sure that you have a reputation of not taking ‘no’ for an answer, that’s how you make this job successful,” said Katz. “And in a borough where there’s 200 languages and 190 countries, it is one that you need to scream loud and clear that we have specific needs, we have unique needs.”
Richards is up to the task, she said. He will deliver.
Katz then tipped her hat to former Acting Borough President Sharon Lee, her former deputy who stepped in when Katz left her borough president post early to become district attorney.
“We thank her for working so hard to make sure that Queens was never overlooked, never forgotten, and always taken care of,” she said of Lee’s tenure, much of which took place during the pandemic.
Congressman and Queens County Democratic Party Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica, Laurelton, Rosedale, Cambria Heights, Saint Albans, Springfield Gardens, The Rockaways, JFK Airport) said that not only is Richards historic but he is also “transitional and transformative.” He pointed to Richards’s transition team as proof.
“What’s extraordinary about it, it encompasses everybody from Astoria to Far Rockaway and everything in between. It emcompasses people who may be more progressive and some who may be maybe more moderate and some who may be more conservative. It encompasses Muslims and Jews and Christians and Hindus. It encompasses Asians and African Americans and Latinos and Caucasian and East Asians. It is what we are as a borough. And he has shown already in just the few days that he’s been the borough president, that he understands the meaning of one Queens and bringing Queens together.”
The late former Borough Presidents Claire Shulman and Helen M. Marshall, are looking down on him proudly, Meeks said.
Shulman, who passed away in August, called him often in her final days, Meeks said. She knew she didn’t have much time left and wanted to make sure that he did everything he could to get Richards elected.
“Claire, he did it!” Meeks exclaimed, raising his arms in the air and looking at the sky.