The setting for Melinda Katz’s inauguration as the 19th Queens borough president was Queens College’s LeFrak Concert Hall, an intimate setting that recalled her late parents David, who founded the Queens Symphony Orchestra, and Jeanne, who founded the Queens Council on the Arts.
Throw in a couple thousand of her closest friends and supporters, including a who’s who of elected officials such as Mayor de Blasio and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and you had Queens celebrating the triumph of a native daughter with two decades of public service.
Following a brief video beginning with a portrait of a young David and Jeanne Katz, the new borough president took the stage to thunderous applause, accompanied by her sons, Hunter and Carter, and her partner, Guardian Angels founder and radio host Curtis Sliwa.
De Blasio administered the oath of office with Katz placing her hand on an Old Testament held by Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx). The book is a family treasure given to her father in the 1960s by former Queens District Attorney Frank O’Connor.
Katz welcomed her family, and honored her immediate predecessors, Helen Marshall and Claire Shulman, the latter of whom Katz often credits as her mentor in public life. Also on stage was Deputy Borough President Leroy Comrie, who had challenged Katz for the nomination last year.
Assemblyman Jeff Aubrey (D-Corona), who Katz said first convinced her to seek office 20 years ago (“‘Because it’s the right thing to do,’ he said”) served as master of ceremonies that included prayers from Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, the family’s longtime rabbi, and the Rev. Floyd Flake, the former congressman.
Striking a theme from her campaign, Katz spoke of Queens’ vast ethnic and cultural diversity as its greatest strength.
“We are the Bangladeshi small business owner on Hillside Avenue; we are the Ecuadorian mother who is balancing two jobs and raising two children,” Katz said. “We are the senior couple from Laurelton trying to figure out how to keep our home on a fixed income. We are a newly married gay couple making a life in Jackson Heights and raising a family, and we are a fourth-generation Italian family tasked with keeping our traditions.”
Katz gave a brief reiteration of her campaign platform, including reintroducing Shulman’s education war room, and more comprehensive healthcare, including a vow to retain and increase the number of hospitals in the borough.
She said her other goals are to use smart land use practices to balance economic growth and protect neighborhoods; and increase funding for transportation infrastructure and the arts.
“My father used to say that you should be able to have all you want in Queens without having to cross over a bridge or go through a tunnel,” she said.
The mayor and Aubrey, both of whom check in at about 6 feet, 5 inches tall, lent a light touch as de Blasio was introduced, with both men playfully straining to reach 6-foot-6 as they stood side by side.
DeBlasio was effusive in his congratulations.
“I am looking forward to working with her for the next four years,” he said.
Among the other dignitaries present at the ceremony were Queens County District Attorney Richard Brown; Public Advocate Letitia James; Comptroller Scott Stringer; and newly minted City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan), as well as members of the Queens delegations to the City Council, state Senate and Assembly, and numerous community boards.
“Melinda does it all,” James said. “She has a family. She raises her kids. She deals with Curtis.”
Schumer, who arrived late due to flight delays out of Washington, DC, made it to the stage as Katz wound up her acceptance speech. He offered his own brief congratulations as he took to the podium.
“It’s never good to get up after the guest of honor has spoken,” he said. “So ...”
The senator then tore up his prepared congratulatory speech, eliciting both hearty laughs and the second-loudest ovation of the night.