Elizabeth Crowley was born and raised in Queens where she attended St Agnes High School. Her religious education was an important foundation in her life. Both of her parents served on the City Council. Her cousin, Joe Crowley, served as a US Congressman from NY for many years. She has a B.A. in Restoration and Preservation from SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology and an M.S. in City and Regional Planning from Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Architecture. Crowley did historic preservation work, as a proud union member of District Council 9 (International Union of Painters and Allied Trade. She worked on various major landmarks in NYC, including Radio City Music Hall and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As a union member she was an early advocate for better wages and benefits. Crowley also worked in education. From 2009 through 2017 she served as a Councilmember for District 30 which covers Maspeth, Middle Village, Woodside and Woodhaven. There, she served on numerous committees including Criminal Justice where she advocated for prison reform. She also served prominently as co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus where she promoted changes for women’s equal pay and opportunity in the workplace.
Donovan Richards was born and raised in Southeast Queens. He received an Associate’s degree in Aviation Management from Vaughn College of Aeronautics and went to from there to the Academy of Aviation. In March of 2003 upon the fatal shooting of his childhood friend in front of his home, Donovan committed to be involved in politics. In 2011 Richards became chief of staff for NYC, Councilman James Sanders, Jr. and when Sanders was elected to the NYS Senate, Richards won a 2013 special election the NYC Council to succeed him which includes South Jamaica and Far Rockaway, an office he still holds. During his 1st term he secured more than $1.5 billion to help fill the enormous sewer infrastructure problem of flooding in Southeast Queens. In the second half of his term Richards was at the center of Mayor de Blasio’s push for affordable housing across the city. Donovan has had the benefit of a religious education, at a Christian Academy, a time that he says he will never forget, and this guides his concern with the work he does with the Yeshiva school system.
BJL: How would you categorize your main past achievements in public office?
Richards: In addition to the $2 billion that I procured to build infrastructure throughout Queens from the Southeast to the Rockaways to repair the sewer system I was able to assist projects from East Midtown to Far Rockaway as well as private site rezoning. In the case of the commercial development of the downtown Far Rockaway area we were able to secure nearly $200 million from the de Blasio administration to build 17 mixed units, 2 new parks and fix old ones. From this funding public housing was improved and a 150-store retail area is set to be developed.
Crowley: I have always been someone who believes in reforming government for the right reasons. And the right reasons are not always popular. I stood up to the Mayor when he wanted to cut firehouses…and I won. I stood up to the Speaker of the City Council when she was not allocating funding fairly to members…and changed that system. I took on the head of the Queens Library System when he was spending lavishly on his own needs and not the needs of the people of Queens… and he is no longer there. I am in government to do what is right and I want to bring that same spirt to the Borough Presidents office.
BJL: What affiliations did you have with Jewish groups and how were you helpful to them?
Richards: Working to bring the Holocaust Initiative to the Rockaways was one highlight. I increased the budgets of Jewish organizations especially the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula (JCCRP). I also worked with the various yeshivas as busing issues arose. Another yeshiva was having a tax issue that we dealt with. Working with City Council Member Chaim Deutsch in passing the Hate Crimes Prevention bill and the establishment of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes stands out as one of my major accomplishments.
Crowley: As a member of the City Council, I was proud to work hand in hand with the United Talmudic Seminary in Glendale to make sure they felt welcomed and at home in the community. I have been to Israel twice, once with the Jewish Community Relations Council and once on my own to learn. As a young person working on restorative art, I was inspired to work at the Central Synagogue after a major fire. There are many more to list including Chazaq and the Queens Jewish Community Council, but though my years in government and this campaign I have formed deep lasting relationships with many in the Jewish community. Many of the conversations this year were about the rise of anti-Semitism and the real fear that people have. The people that I spoke with and the community deserves so much better. That’s not who we are in Queens and we must and will do better.
BJL: Now that you’re running for Queens Borough President what are the key things that you would hope to achieve for the Borough of Queens in general? Pls list 3 broad categories.
Richards: Healthcare, food security and housing. Since the pandemic began, unemployment has at least quadrupled, and food security will become an evolving issue. With the mayor, we expanded the public-school kosher food program into our areas. Housing – to bring rental assistance for those in need. I hope to provide quality Healthcare regarding COVID -19. We will work to have accessible community testing programs and get through it together. NYC is headed into a $9 billion deficit and we will have to fight to make sure Queens is not left behind. From Forest Hills to Far Rockaway, we will see that the social services gap is filled as we work together to rebuild the stalled Queens economy.
Crowley: I am running because Queens deserves its fair share of funding and services. Three key areas are transportation, public safety, and healthcare in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
BJL: How do you think you could benefit the Jewish community in particular?
Richards: We cannot allow any kind of attacks in our borough. Police accountability is an evolving field and the establishment of hate crimes for CompStat reporting of hate crimes was a huge win as I worked with Council Member Mark Treyger. This means that individual precincts are further held accountable as they must report hate crimes to One Police Plaza each month along with other stats that they are delivering.
Young Jewish families have often come to me with worries about the housing market and that it is expensive to live in NYC. I hope to provide access to state and city vouchers in a grandeur program to allow families to stay in their homes and preserve the quality of life they have come to know. Regarding education, I must watch the State from impeding too much. This follows on the work of now former Council Members David Greenfield’s security bill that we have been working to expand, to include more yeshivas.
Crowley: I am the strongest candidate to represent the Jewish Community in Queens. I will create the anti-Semitism task force on day one. I am committed to building relationships between Queens and Israeli companies and saying no way to the BDS movement. I will advocate for greater security funding for religious schools. And I will listen, learn, and always be working to make life better for the community.
BJL: Do you support the state of Israel? Have you ever been there?
Richards: I visited the holy land of Israel in 2015 and cannot wait to go back. I fell in love with the country. From the food to the wine, it was amazing. Overall the trip was very spiritual and a great experience. I firmly support Israel and I am strongly against the BDS movement. I maintain a great relationship with the Israeli ambassador.
Crowley: Yes, unwaveringly. I have been to Israel twice, once with the JCRC and once on my own.
BJL: Would you consider yourself a Traditional, Conservative, Moderate or progressive Democrat?
Richards: I consider myself to be left center, but with a pragmatic style of leadership. The Black community alongside the Jewish community has been my center as we share many ideals. I am solution oriented and I bring this style of leadership with me where I will bring all sides to the table. I do not stand for “all or nothing,” as in politics there is a concept of give and take and finding common ground.
Crowley: I am a moderate Democrat, but my focus is on Queens finally getting its fair share. I am in this to represent all of Queens and make sure that the city hears us loud and clear. Queens has been deeply hurt by the pandemic and years of not receiving our fair share made it even worse.
BJL: Which areas in Queens is your base of support and which voters are you hoping to attract to your slate?
Richards: From the beginning it was clear that the African-American and Jewish coalitions will win this race. I have the support of a broad coalition of the Jewish community. My very first endorsement was the tremendous support of former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman. This followed with amazing support from prominent names in the Jewish community like Shimi Pelman, Council Member Karen Koslowitz and Richard Altabe.
Crowley: I am running a borough wide race. I have campaigned in every community through canvassing pre-Covid-19, mail, television, and online. I am proud that I have spent a lot of time talking with and listening to the Jewish community in Queens. From visiting Shuls, to shops, to homes, to Kosher restaurants, I feel a strong personal connection with the community.
BJL: How would you assure a voter on the fence that voting for you is a vote for a winning team?
Richards: (with humor) Well Claire Shulman has endorsed me and she does not lose. My union endorsements stand out. Even the United Nations stands by me.
Crowley: I can assure them because I am the strongest and most prepared candidate for this job. Growing up 14 of 15 kids, raising two sons and working, serving in public office and taking strong positions has uniquely prepared me. My plans for Queens are direct: We need our fair share and I have the proposals to do so. I am focused on making sure our healthcare system is finally rebuilt after years of neglect and that our small businesses can get back on their feet. Small businesses are hurting from COVID-19 and recent property destruction as a result of riots, which were different from peaceful protesters. The destruction was unacceptable and wrong.
BJL: What is unique about your candidacy? What are you offering the residents of Queens that the others are not?
Richards: Please look at my record of what has been accomplished in the Rockaways since I took office in 2012 following Superstorm Sandy and see the transformation that continues until today. This is a prime example and a great blueprint of how I will rebuild after a crisis like coronavirus. This is a difference that no candidate can compete with.
Crowley: For one I am the only woman in the race. But more importantly I am someone who knows how to be strong and work with others. I was the only Democratic elected to the 30th Council District. As we face the threats from COVID 19 we must put the interests of health and wellness of all, first.
Crowley: The strongest advocate and voice who knows how important the community is to the future of Queens. I will listen to the needs of the Jewish community and always fight for fair share of services and funding. I also believe that not enough has been done to protect houses of worship against threats and will be a steadfast voice of support for better safety. The freedom to worship is fundamental to many in Queens where we are proud to have so many from diverse backgrounds.
BJL: What would you do to improve educational opportunities for minority youth?
Richards: $50 million in capital over the last 6 years has been put into the public school system in Queens. We also found resources for the yeshiva system for vocational training programs. I would also want to fund educational programs and science labs as green technology is certainly the future. When I began my work, computers were scarce in classrooms. Now they are nearly everywhere and I will work to make sure this is the standard throughout Queens.
Crowley: Opportunity is key and we can expand that through partnerships in vocational and higher learning as well as better funding for schools.
BJL: Would you stand in the way of building more Charter or private schools?
Richards: No, I am strong believer and supporter of choice as being important. I am against co-locations because this presents a variety of struggles. Community led charters are the way to go and I shy against the big corporation model, but I will work with what is presented to me. I strongly care about all aspects of schooling.
Crowley: No. I would review all plans fairly.
BJL: As Borough President would you be eager to build more schools where overcrowding is a problem?
Richards: Yes, building more schools ties directly into development. As the Council works with bringing new big developments, this should trigger a more precise review on schools in general. I have worked hard to build two new schools in the Rockaways as new developments arose and I will do this all over Queens as projects pop up.
Crowley: When I was first elected to the city council my district was the most overcrowded. When I left office we had added over 6000 new seats and alleviated the issue. We need more seats for students in our schools. This is core to the issue of fair share.
BJL: What could you do to improve poorly functioning or failing schools?
Richards: I intend to invest in schools that need a boost. The DOE is poised to take a $400 million cut. Queens is notorious for never getting fair funding and must make sure we get our fair share. Queens has had less money spent on each child than any other borough and this must stop.
Crowley: We must make sure that all schools get their fair share. This is not happening now and the city needs to hear from Queens loud and clear.
BJL: If the DA’s office will be undergoing Criminal Justice Reform is there anything that you could do to make that more productive?
Richards: We must find a way to bring our police precincts into the 21st century. I believe that the 911 system is overwhelmed, and we must find a way to divert calls. The cops are simply called too often and we as a community are too reliant on the police to respond to what often are nonviolent needs. Additionally, it is possible that each precinct should have a hate crimes unit like the counter terrorism unit. When there is a hate crime all yeshivas suddenly get a police car in front. There might be a smarter way to tackle the overall hate crime issue.
Crowley: We must make sure the criminal justice system is fair and equal. We also should not abandon protecting the people of Queens. I supported the recent changes to bail laws signed by the Governor to make sure violent criminals and perpetrators of hate crimes are not harming our community. I am also strongly opposed to defunding the police as has been supported by some of my opponents in this campaign.
BJL: What big ideas do you have to improve public transportation to connect more people to public transit?
Richards: I believe strongly in the waterways of our city. I have worked to bring ferry service into the Rockaways but is has not been enough to reach far west to the everyday folk. Buses need to function much better. I will work alongside the MTA as they reform the transit system for the majority of Queens residents. The subway system is simply a tragedy that needs much work.
Crowley: Queens needs big ideas again and a big thinker. This is why I am running. My Queens plan would reactivate the Lower Montauk Branch of the LIRR. NYC Transit Fares would connect residents to jobs in booming industrial hubs, student to major universities, and families to world class cultural institutions, providing opportunities for new market rate and affordable housing.
BJL: What would you do to help young people buy homes or to help with the housing shortage in Queens?
Richards: Foreclosure assistance has been part of my work in the council, particularly part of the Foreclosure Prevention Program. I will work to get the First Time Home Buyer Club expanded with more funding. Young people who finally purchase their first home should not be allowed to fall behind in their payments especially in these critical circumstances we find ourselves in today.
Crowley: I feel that we must build more affordable housing through transit oriented development.
BJL: As a person or as a result of your experience in life, what would you bring to the office of BP that others would not be able to do as well?
Richards: Being born to teenage parents along with my education and participating in the council for over a decade has connected me with all the community. I will be able to address the policing issue, especially hate crimes, housing and public safety from firsthand interactions with the leaders.
Crowley: I am a planner. The borough president's office is both the advocate for the borough and a planner. Just as importantly I have led in times of crisis, like today. After 911, I led the efforts to help small businesses get back on their feet. I was elected during the fiscal crisis in 2009. During Hurricane Sandy, I led major relief efforts in Queens. And when the city tried to cut firehouses, as Chair of the City Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice, I led the effort against it and won. I am battle tested and need no on-the-job training during these turbulent times.
BJL: What could you do to bring more people together politically or philosophically so that different elements of society shouldn’t be as contentious towards each other as we are these days?
Richards: There will be more multicultural events on a yearly basis bringing us all together. We will remove the stigmas of ignorance and hate that largely exist because we all simply do not know one another. I would want to assist with funding a welcome center for help and resources at Borough Hall that is for both documented and undocumented residents. It is also a brilliant idea to use some of our community boards as satellite offices and use our 14 community boards to really hear from the people.
Crowley: I can do it because I have done it. We need to come together for the best interest of Queens. This is the world’s borough and we must come out of this crisis stronger and more united.
BJL: Could you say that you could try, from a bully pulpit, if not on an administrative level, to promote that children be taught character education in all schools to promote a more harmonious society?
Richards: Socio-emotional learning is key work in the council. Last year in NYC 5000 school safety agents existed and there was just 1 social worker for every 500 students. These services need to be changed especially after the COVID situation settles. Our children are out of school and this has been rough on them emotionally.
Crowley: I will do this from both levels. My first act as borough president will be creating the anti-Semitism anti hate task force made up of religious and civic leaders. The task force will help promote unity and tolerance neighborhood by neighborhood and block by block. These are Queens values.
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