Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said he never felt like a novice after he was chosen for the City Council last February in a special election.
“I had worked for former Councilman James Sanders for 10 years, but only had been chief of staff for two or three,” he said. “I worked alongside him at a number of levels. I was always learning about city government and how it works.”
So when he moved to the big chair after Sanders was elected to the state Senate, he said he had few surprises, and a very definite agenda.
“I probably dedicated 40 percent of my capital budget to education projects,” he said. “When I’m re-elected, that will have to continue, and not just things like playgrounds. We have to add science labs and improve technology because our students aren’t just competing against each other anymore — they’re competing against the entire world. And with the new core curriculum exams, which will be taken on computers, we have some schools that could not have taken those tests last year.”
An offshoot priority will be continued funding of construction projects to expand libraries in Laurelton and Rosedale, and to seek more money for senior centers.
“We need to make libraries a true focal point for the community,” he said, citing work done in the Rockaway branch.
“We got a state workforce center placed there,” he said. “People can go there for help with their resumes and getting a GED.”
Mention some of the headaches that go with the job, such as the massive time commitments, and he looks at it quite differently.
“When I saw my best friend murdered on March 13, 2003, I knew my life would never be the same,” he said. “That was when I made a commitment to making a difference in people’s lives.”
He told the story of a woman who came into his office about two months ago with her adolescent son, whom she had caught stealing from her.
“I asked her to dress him in a suit and bring him back the next day so he could travel around with me, be sort of an intern at my office,” Richards said. “I was able to show him that there are better ways of getting money, ways to make a difference.”
The councilman said he would continue efforts on combating gun violence, mitigating flooding and improving traffic safety.
Litter, a quality-of-life complaint in some districts, is a major problem in several of his neighborhoods.
He has written a bill that would, if passed and signed into law, make for steep increases in the fines for people caught disposing of their household garbage in city street wastebaskets.
He said he has worked for many years alongside Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, and hopes the polls predicting his election are correct.
He supports de Blasio’s effort for a tax increase on top earners to pay for universal pre-K programs, but would not support a property tax increase if the state says no.
“Before I would increase any other tax or make any cut, I would start with corporate tax breaks,” he said. “Take Madison Square Garden — they get more than $10 million a year.”
Richards also cited published reports that the state might be open to granting de Blasio’s tax increase request — after the 2014 elections take place.
He also supports an effort in the Council’s Progressive Caucus to require the Council speaker to distribute discretionary funds equally, taking the politics out of the process.
“I know the speaker has to be able to rule, and I know we will be getting a lot of new committee chairmen,” he said. “But while governing, you have to be fair. We need to take the politics out of member items.”