Nov. 30, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Rockaway Council Member Donovan Richards, who won the Queens Borough President race, has put together a team of diverse leaders and experts to advise him as he prepares to take office.
Richards will look to the team members — who total more than 100 people — to shape new policy as he moves from his position on the City Council to Queens Borough Hall.
He will lean on the transition team for council before taking the reins from Acting Borough President Sharon Lee.
Richards’ team – which he unveiled Monday – includes elected officials, activists, nonprofit heads, union leaders and experts from a variety of different backgrounds and experience.
“As we look towards the future of Queens it’s so important that we have community input from every corner of our borough…,” Richards said in a statement. “There’s no question we have a tough road ahead, but with this diverse team of advocates, community leaders, and policy makers I know that we will start off on the path to success.”
The borough president-elect has chosen three co-chairs to lead his transition team — Jackson Heights Assembly Member Catalina Cruz; former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger and Queens Public Library President & CEO Dennis Walcott, who previously served as NYC Schools Chancellor and Deputy Mayor.
Rhonda Binda, Chair of the organization South Asian American Voice, will serve as the executive direction overseeing the transition.
In addition to Cruz, Richards has appointed two Queens council members and another state assembly member to his transition team which includes 14 committees.
Richard’s former opponent in the borough president race, Astoria Council Member Costa Constantinides, will serve as chair of the Planning Committee that oversees land use and development.
Southeast Queens Council Member I. Daneek Miller will serve as co-chair of the Transportation Committee alongside Juan Restrepo, the Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives. Before taking office, Miller was president of a transit union.
Both Constantinides and Miller are term-limited and must vacate their City Council seats by the end of next year.
Meanwhile newly-elected Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson will serve on two committees within the transition team. The youngest Black assembly member in New York’s history at 24 years old, Anderson was aptly named to Richard’s Youth Committee as well as his Personnel Committee.
The Personnel/Appointments Committee will be co-chaired by Franck Joseph, the Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights and Ibrahim Khan, the Chief of Staff to the New York Attorney General.
The Youth Committee will be chaired by political strategist Martha Ayon, the head of Azul Public Solutions.
Other appointees include Executive Director of the Asian American Federation Jo-Ann Yoo as chair of the Immigration Committee; Director of Communications for Council Member Danny Dromm Michael Mallon as chair of the Community Boards Committee; pastor and community leader Bishop Taylor as chair of Community Affairs; media diversity consultant Juana Ponce de Leon as chair of the Communications Committee and Executive Director of The Black Institute Bertha Lewis as chair of the External Affairs Committee.
Richards has also named VP for Communications and Marketing at Queens College Jay Hershenson as the Education Committee chair; Executive Director at Community Voices Heard Afua Atta-Mensah as chair of the Policy Committee; Executive Director of Chhaya Annetta Seecharran as chair of the Economic Development Committee; Executive Director at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning Cathy Hung as chair of the Tourism, Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports (TAPES) Committee and Major Sharon Sweeting-Lindsey, of VETS, Inc, as Chair of the Seniors and Veterans Affairs Committee.
Richards has also appointed three advisors to his transition team.
Cecilia Gentili, principal and owner at Transgender Equity Consulting, will serve as Richards’ LGBTQ+ Advisor; Mike Schweinsburg, president of the 504 Democratic Club, will serve as his Disability Advisor; and Mark Gold, venture partner at Acronym Venture Capital, will serve as his Technology Advisor.
Richards has yet to announce any cabinet picks, but members of transition teams often go on to serve as permanent members of a borough president’s administration.
Previous Queens Boro President Melinda Katz failed to advance the following Queens transportation projects. It will be interesting to see if he is any more successful than his predecessor in convincing City Hall, Albany, Washington and the MTA to provide funding to make any a reality over coming years.
The list of projects include the $258 million Phase 2 Woodhaven Blvd. Select Bus Service; $2.2 billion to construct Light Rail between Jamaica and Long Island City on the old Lower Montauk LIRR branch; restoration of LIRR service on the old Rockaway branch at $8 billion; Triboro X Subway Express (new subway line connecting the Bronx, Queens & Brooklyn) for $2 billion; Main Street Flushing Intermodal Bus Terminal $100 million; reopening the Woodhaven Blvd. Atlantic Branch LIRR Station $40 million; the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront Street Car Connector at a cost of $2.7 billion; $36 million for reopening the old Elmhurst LIRR station and millions for new ferry services from Bayside, Fort Totten, College Point and Flushing Marina.
Many neighborhoods are still looking for introduction of either Select Bus Service; Bus Rapid Transit; Limited Stop Bus to Subway or Express Bus Service to Manhattan. There is still the need to bring many of the 78 Queens subway and 21 LIRR stations back up to a state of good repair. Don’t forget the need for additional subway and LIRR stations to become fully compliant with the Americans for Disability Act by construction of elevators.
Will he be successful in convincing the MTA to program a share of billions in future Congestion Pricing revenues now scheduled to start in 2023 to support some of these projects? Will any of these projects be added into the $51 billion MTA 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan? What about including these projects in the MTA 2020 – 2040 Twenty Year Long Range Capital Plan?
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 NY Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for grants supporting billions in capital projects and programs on behalf of the MTA, NYC Transit bus and subway, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus and NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)