The councilman acknowledged that land use is a powerful tool, but the goal isn’t just to build, but rather to have “community development.” If elected borough president, Richards said he would set up a zoning task force to identify opportunities as a borough and go to City Hall with those ideas, instead of the other way around.
“We have to be able to sit at the table, figure out a plan and push as hard as we can to leverage these opportunities,” he said. “When we do that, we build a strong Queens.”
As the current chair of the Committee on Public Safety, Richards will also focus his attention on how to keep the borough safe while reforming the NYPD.
He said he wasn’t shocked to see an uptick in shootings due to the “perfect storm” created by rising unemployment, people cooped up in their homes for months and the cutting of youth programs.
Richards, who has sat down with the NYPD as an elected official, said the community can support the police while also demanding change.
“The NYPD has to hold those who don’t do courtesy, professionalism and respect accountable,” he said. “How do we reimagine policing in the 21st century?”
The councilman is advocating for more gun buybacks, more programs for youth and a pipeline of employment, especially for those who have had previous involvement with the criminal justice system.
He also supports expanding the Cure Violence programs in Queens to prevent shootings from happening in the first place.
“At Borough Hall, public safety will be at the top of my list,” he said. “I want to see us at the table with every commander, with stakeholders.
“We should set a goal to reduce shootings,” Richards added. “We want to make this the safest borough in the city of New York.”
In the recent city budget, which Richards voted against, the mayor moved money from creating a new 116th Precinct in southeast Queens in favor of a new community center. Richards said he wanted the mayor to fund both.
He sees the youth center as prevention to keep young people off the streets and a place that can offer after-school programs and tutoring.
But he also believes residents deserve services. The 105th Precinct, he noted, has the longest police response times in the city and covers the largest geographical area of all precincts.
Like many issues, Richards said the community shouldn’t have to choose one or the other.
“This was a missed opportunity,” he said. “We deserve the services.”
As for his vote on the budget, Richards said it did not make sense to hire a new police class while cutting programs like the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which he called counterproductive.
He said every city agency had to make cuts, but the NYPD wasn’t even initially asked to make a 1 percent cut, which he said was “ridiculous.”
“There does need to be a culture shift in the NYPD in some areas,” Richards said. “There are some things that build mistrust with the community and makes the city less safe.
“We have never said we don’t want police, we want good police officers,” he added. “There’s no contradiction in that.”
Just like after the devastation from Superstorm Sandy, Queens will have to “swim through this tough time,” but has shown the will to bounce back, Richards said.
“Queens, I believe, will lead the way into the future,” he said. “Queens is going to be the template of where this country needs to go as we rebuild our economy and celebrate our differences.”
The Democratic nominee for borough president wants to replicate what he’s done in his district as a councilman and move Queens forward.
“We’ll be Queens strong,” he said. “We’ll get through this together.”