Six months after winning a hotly contested race to temporarily fill the District 31 City Council seat vacated by his former boss, Donovan Richards presented his first state of the district report Tuesday night before an audience of over 100 constituents and fellow elected officials at the Queens Church of the Firstborn in Laurelton.
“When I was sworn in I promised this community that I would fight relentlessly to ensure government works for us. We have done just that,” Richards said.
The first of his accomplishments that he noted was killing a proposal by a developer to build a liquor store across the street from Springfield High School. “Tonight I am happy to announce that our children will not have to step over vodka bottles to get to school,” he said.
Another fight Richards waged was against the city’s plan to raise parking rates in Rosedale by 200 percent.
“Tonight I am happy to report we defeated that proposal as well,” he said. “We sent a clear message to the city that over-taxation with limited services will no longer be tolerated by the people of this community.”
Richards spoke about the launching by his office of a noise task force to combat rowdy summer house parties.
“I am happy to say that there have not been any reported killings or house party shootings in our district so far this summer,” he said. “We have shown this city that by working together we can keep our communities safe.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Donovan indicated that he introduced his first piece of legislation, the Hurricane Sandy Tracking Bill, which, he said, “will ensure this city doesn’t bypass communities in need for millionaires who are penny pinching off the system.”
He indicated that last month he “successfully negotiated” his first budget. The district received nearly $8 million in capital funding and over $500,000 in expense funding to support seniors and youth organizations. “No daycares, libraries or firehouses will close in my district,” he said. “That is a tremendous victory.”
Richards reminded the audience that he recently announced nearly $3 million in funding to the Rosedale and Laurelton public libraries. “For far too long our young people have not had a place to call their own and we are going to ensure they do with the expansion of these libraries,” he said. “The idea is to build and expand on what we already have.”
He also allocated nearly $2 million, the most by any council member this year according to Richards, for the installation of security cameras in the district’s public housing developments.
“While these cameras are a step in the right direction, it is ultimately not the answer to stopping violence and high incarceration rates. We must ensure that opportunities for our young people to work are available,” he said.
Richards said he is “sick and tired of seeing garbage on our streets.” He renewed his call to the Sanitation Department to write summonses to store owners who do not sweep in front of their stores. He promised stricter enforcement. He has also funded the DOE fund, a group of formerly incarcerated individuals who keep the streets clean while turning their lives around. Richards plans to expand the program on Merrick Boulevard and 243rd Street in Rosedale.
Late in his report, Richards addressed the city’s controversial stop and frisk policy, saying, “The mayor and police commissioner have simply said, ‘If you’re a black or Latino male or female in a high-crime area, you deserve to be stopped without reasonable suspicion.’”
Last year, Richards said, over 600,000 minorities were stopped, with less than one percent having anything illegal in their possession.
“I want to remind the mayor tonight that racial profiling caused the death of Trayvon Martin and that we refuse to have New York City turn into Sanford, Florida,” Richards said. “We will override the mayor’s veto.”
Throughout his report, Richards sounded very much like the candidate he is. Seeking re-election in November to the position he assumed when former Councilman James Sanders was elected to the state Senate in the fall, Richards will face off in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary. Richards had previously served as Sanders’ chief of staff for a decade.
Laurelton resident Keisha Hamblin was impressed with Richards. “He’s motivating young people with his actions.” She hopes Richards will “continue to strengthen the education system.”
Vernel Bennett, president of the 224-225 Street Civic Association of Laurelton, was also firmly behind Richards. “I’ve known him since he was 19 years old. I’ve watched him grow. For his first address, he did quite well. He hit the streets running. He’s trying to live up to his campaign promises,” he said.
Kevin Morris, a member of Defend Justice, a recently-formed social justice advocacy organization, said, “It’s very important for people in this community that he’s out there.”
Morris was particularly concerned with the points Richards made about racial profiling. Working in conjunction with Richards, the advocacy group is planning a youth town hall to “change the unrest,” Morris said.