Queens Borough President Forum Gets Heated

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 Monday night’s Queens Borough President (QBP) candidate’s forum may have taken place in a church, but that didn’t stop candidates from turning it into a fiery debate.

On Monday, February 24, all six candidates running for Queens Borough President were invited to Macedonia Baptist Church on Beach 67th Street for a forum hosted by the Rockaway Youth Task Force (RYTF), however Democrats, Elizabeth Crowley, Anthony Miranda and Donovan Richards, were the only ones to attend. The church was packed with locals waiting to hear what they had to say to decide who they will vote for in the special election on March 24.

The forum got off to a late start, and began with a prayer and a reminder to all in the building to be respectful—yet that didn’t keep candidates from making jibes and personal attacks, and guests from applauding and booing in response.

The forum kicked off with opening statements from each candidate. Crowley, a former councilwoman who lives in Glendale, explained her personal history of growing up in a family of 15 children, mostly raised by her mother as her father passed away early. As a union supporter, standing for the working people, Crowley said she was elected as the first woman, the first Democrat and the first union member in her district in 2009.

Anthony Miranda, from Fresh Meadows, a retired NYPD police officer and founder of the National Latino Officers Association, explained his time fighting against discrimination within the NYPD. As he’s never been a politician, Miranda explained that he aims to serve as a voice for Queens’ constituents who feel they haven’t been heard by those who’ve been in office.

Councilman Donovan Richards, who lives in Laurelton, spoke of his time spent representing Rockaway for the past six years on the city council. “I don’t have to talk about what we’re going to do to ensure this community in Queens moves forward because we provided the template for how development should be done in Queens and New York City. And part of it is learning how to leverage opportunity for communities that have been historically disinvested in,” Richards said, before naming some of his development, infrastructure, park and education investments he’s made as councilman. 

Hosts, Kevin Alexander of RDRC and Andrea Colon of RYTF then asked questions on various topics from education to transportation, economic development, criminal justice reforms, housing, flooding, community boards and more.

On the topic of providing resources for failing schools, Richards spoke about things he’s done as councilman, such as investing $50 million in improvements for local schools and the need to create new schools within the community. Miranda spoke about overcrowding in Queens’ schools and inequality between what some districts get as opposed to others. To address this, he said he’d serve as a voice for his constituents and make sure there is transparency in the decision-making process for school solutions. Crowley spoke about how she transformed her district, which once had the most overcrowded schools in the city, by building more schools and expanding others.

On their feelings of the controversial Specialized High School Admissions Test, Crowley said she supports the test, but said there should be more opportunities for kids across the city to attend specialized schools by opening more of them, and resources for kids to be better prepared for the test. Miranda said he supports the test, but other criteria should be considered in addition, so schools can consider the student as a whole, even if they have a bad test day. Richards spoke of how less than one percent of black and brown students attends specialized high schools. “We gotta call it what it is—Racism,” he said. He also supported looking at students as a whole and not just based on a test.

As the Queens Borough President will have a major say in who sits on community board, RYTF asked how each candidate would ensure boards properly represent the makeup of each community. Crowley spoke of how she’s helped start a program to ensure there’s more female representation on city council, and she would do something similar to make sure community boards are fairly represented with gender and racial diversity. Miranda said he would ensure that everyone’s voices are heard equally, and took a jab at Richards, who has also had some say in community board members as councilman. “If they couldn’t fix the problem before, they’re not going to give it to you,” he said. Richards shot back at Miranda, saying, "He likes to talk about failed politicians because he was one. He ran for office and lost.” Richards added that as a black man who has faced discrimination, he deeply cares about diversity and will make sure communities are properly represented on community boards.

As QBP will also have a say in land use issues, questions were brought up about development in Rockaway. Crowley said she’d open a satellite office in Rockaway so its residents could easily access the QBP and added that Rockaway needs more of other things before being developed. “We cannot build and overdevelop without green spaces, without stores, without schools,” she said. Miranda expanded on this, seemingly taking a jab at Richards’ development projects for Edgemere and downtown Far Rockaway. “We need responsible development. They’re building buildings that haven’t done the work. We need to know the impact on schools, hospitals, police, sewage. They haven’t done the work, but they keep building,” he said. Richards spoke about the development he’s supported in Rockaway, in addition to supporting things like new supermarkets, new infrastructure, and new schools.

Although not particularly important to the QBP role, RYTF asked for yes/no or one-word answer responses to some special interest questions. Favorite Rockaway restaurant? Crowley: Whit’s End. Miranda: Not one in particular. Richards: Goody’s. Should undocumented residents be allowed to vote in local elections? Richards: Yes. Miranda: Yes. Crowley: No. Should voting age be lowered to 16? Crowley: Yes. Miranda: No. Richards: Yes.

A group of students who have been fighting for a Success Academy Charter School for middle school students asked candidates if they would support it. Miranda said he would be the voice the students need and support the school. Richards said the students were offered a location and it was turned down, to which the student said it wasn’t an adequate facility. Richards said, “This is a conversation for the mayor.” Crowley responded to this, saying, “Your councilmember is in the mayor’s pocket. Anything he wants from City Hall, he gets. If your school was a priority to him, you would have had a new building.”

The heated forum ended with closing statements and a reminder from Reverend Evan Dean Gray for all candidates to remain civil. “We could agree to disagree, and everyone has their own plan, but as you are leaders, when one attacks another, those who support the leaders begin to attack each other too. Whoever wins the election, we’re still going to need each other.”

By Katie McFadden

 

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