Diwali Officially a Public School Holiday

Adams, Rajkumar and Banks outside Tweed Courthouse in October 2022. Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

By Alicia Venter | [email protected]

As of June 10, Diwali is a public school holiday in New York City.

A bill passed by the state legislature officially adds Diwali to the list of days that public school students will not have to attend school, effective July 1.

The legislation (A-7769) was introduced by State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar — who represents parts of Glendale, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood and Woodhaven — in October 2022, with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Department of Education Chancellor David Banks offering public support for the legislation.

“Nothing can stop a community whose time has come,” Rajkumar said in a press release. “People said this would be impossible but we made it happen. To everyone who believed in the power of the possible—whether in the legislature, the streets of Queens, or all around the world, this victory is yours.”

Diwali is a sacred holiday for over 200,000 Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist New Yorkers. Celebrating good over evil, and light over darkness, the holiday falls on ​​the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Indian calendar in each year, as is the beginning of the fiscal year in the country as well.

In the Gregorian calendar, that typically falls in November — this year, it will be on Sunday, Nov. 12.

“If approved by Governor Hochul, New York’s growing South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities will now have the same recognition and accommodation afforded to those that observe other holidays,” said State Senator Joe Addabbo, who was the bill’s senate sponsor, in a press release. “I admire the significance of Diwali, to show how light can overpower darkness, good can overcome evil, a message celebrating positivity and encouragement.”

When initially announced, Rajkumar stated that in order to adhere to the mandate in State Education Law Section 3604, which requires a minimum of 180 days of school instruction, that “Anniversary Day” should be removed from the public school calendar.

Anniversary Day, described as an “antiquated holiday” by Rajkumar in an October 2022 press conference, recognizes the founding of the first Sunday school in Brooklyn in the 1800s, with state law requiring that Brooklyn and Queens schools close on this day.

According to the amended state education law passed by the state legislature, both Anniversary Day and Diwali stand as public school holidays. There were no public school holidays removed from the calendar, as of publication.

It is long overdue to say to our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist students and communities that, we see you, we acknowledge you,” said Mayor Adams in a press release. “The inclusiveness of this city is extremely significant and this is our opportunity to say that in a loud way.”

As this legislation was inked, other Queens elected officials were staunchly working to promote similar legislation. Flushing congresswoman Grace Meng announced her introduction of legislation to make Diwali a federal holiday on May 26 via Zoom. If passed, the Diwali Day Act will give public school students across the nation the day off from school.

“A federal holiday for Diwali would give millions of families the time deserved to celebrate together, as well as educate others about the history and significance of this auspicious day,” said Meng during the virtual press conference.

Weed Dispensary Planned For Middle Village

The site of the proposed location on Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village.

By Alicia Venter | [email protected]

An application is set to be filed for a legal cannabis dispensary at 74-03 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, Queens Community Board 5 announced in a press release.

The community board was notified that the entity, The Cannabis Place, intends to file an application for a cannabis dispensary with the N.Y. State Office of Cannabis Management.

A public hearing is set for during Community Board 5’s upcoming monthly meeting on Wednesday, June 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Christ the King High School (68-02 Metropolitan Avenue, Middle Village).

There is currently one in-person legal cannabis dispensary in Queens as of publication: Good Grades, LLC in Jamaica. In total, there are nine brick-and-mortar legal dispensaries across the five boroughs, and three temporary delivery locations.

State Senator Joe Addabbo, who represents parts of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Middle Village, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven, is looking into the issue, according to his office, and will have a representative at the community board meeting.

Local councilman Robert Holden declined to comment by press time.

Other issues on the monthly meeting agenda include the Proposed City of Yes Carbon Neutrality Citywide Zoning Text Amendment, which states that the New York City Department of City Planning seeks to modernize the city’s Zoning Resolution.

It aims to help the city reach its goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 through removing obstacles for the installation of green technology, such as supporting electric vehicles, according to the department’s website.

For more information or to register to speak at the monthly meeting, call the board’s office at 718-366-1834 or email at [email protected]. Speakers must register prior to the meeting’s start, and are allotted two to three minutes, depending on the number of speakers.

The meeting will be livestreamed via YouTube and can be found following the meeting on the community board’s website.

Queens Home To Two New DOT Initiatives: Street Seats in Jamaica & Protected Bike Lanes on Queens Blvd.

Street Seats Installed on Jamaica Ave. and New Protected Bike Lanes on Queens Blvd.

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

The new Street Seats on Jamaica Ave. Photo: DOT

Cycling and public safety initiatives by the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) are being expanded into Elmhurst and Jamaica, the department announced on Wednesday, March 10.

In Jamaica, a new location of the Streets Seats program has been installed on Jamaica Avenue. between 160th Street and Union Hall Street. Approximately 4,500 square feet of pedestrian space has been added to the location, the DOT stated, and it includes planters, granite blocks, tables and chairs.

The Street Seats program has been implemented across the city. Partners apply to the initiative, and the DOT will attempt to reinvent the roadbed along the curb line or on wide sidewalks with seating. The partner selects the design and maintains the Street Seat. The crossing between Jamaica Avenue and Union Hall Street. was shortened as well.

The Downtown Jamaica Business Improvement District (BID) will be the partner managing the newest Street Seats.

“The newly expanded pedestrian space on Jamaica Avenue (between 160th St. and Union Hall St.) has been enhanced with planters, tables and chairs for use by our community. Thanks to the NYC Department of Transportation, we have a new, open space in our district,” the Downtown Jamaica BID shared in a statement to the Leader-Observer. “The pedestrian plaza will be programmed with activities and attractions over the next several months, in partnership with other community stakeholders, and we look forward to bringing attention and energy to the community, to benefit Jamaica’s businesses, its visitors, shoppers and residents.”

Across New York City, public spaces are being renovated to reflect the commitment made by Mayor Eric Adams in his 2023 State of the City, where he outlined a plan to invest $375 million to public spaces across the city.

“A crucial element to any thriving downtown is attractive and inviting public spaces. They help beautify, soften the streetscape, and provide a relaxing spot for shoppers and visitors, as well as people who work in the area,” said Justin Rodgers, president & CEO, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, in a statement to the Leader-Observer. “Enhancements like this along with efforts of the newly formed Downtown Jamaica BID will elevate the pedestrian experience in the heart of the shopping corridor.”

Along Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, the DOT has begun the process of hardening the protected bike lane with Jersey Barriers, which are used to separate lanes of traffic.

From 72nd Street to Grand Avenue — a 0.75 mile stretch — these Jersey Barriers will delineate the bike lanes from the traffic-heavy street in an attempt to make bike lanes safer.

In 2022, 3.7 miles of bike lane hardening was implemented on Queens Boulevard. This year, the DOT has committed to hardening 10 miles of existing lanes and five miles of new projects with sturdier barriers, they said in a press release.

Queens is the world’s borough, and delivering high-quality pedestrian spaces and safe cycling infrastructure are some of the ways Mayor Adams and New York City DOT are reimagining the use of public space,” said NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in a press release. “I thank the hard-working teams at DOT and our community partners for their efforts in beautifying Jamaica Avenue and giving cyclists the protection they deserve on Queens Boulevard.”

Corona Food Bank Cuts Ribbon in Elmhurst

4,200 Square Foot Brick-and-Mortar Food Bank Donated to Non-Profit

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

 

As food insecurity continues to rise in Queens, the community stepped up to open a new food bank on Corona Avenue in Elmhurst on Thursday.

The Corona Food Bank, located at 92-21 Corona Avenue, is a 4,200 square foot facility that will serve as a food collection and distribution facility for Community Center Services Organization Corp. (CCSO), a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that has distributed foods, clothes and essentials to Queens residents and asylum seekers since 2020.

The facility will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ramos (left) and Argento (center) cutting the ribbon on the new food bank.

The building was donated by Broadway Stages at a 12 month no-cost lease. Valued at over $210,000, the facility has been modified to best serve as a food distribution center.

“It’s my honor to be able to do this,” said Tony Argento, founder of Broadway Stages, at the ribbon cutting. “To donate this space to provide necessities to people who are in need. I hope other well-off people who are doing lots of business here in Elmhurst and Corona can step up and spend some money, donate some money, and make this happen for people in need.”

Broadway Stages is a film and television studio production company located primarily in North Brooklyn. The organization “take[s] pride in being a responsible neighbor, actively supporting economic, social and environmental initiatives that benefit our community,” their website states. They are based in three boroughs across the city, and have more than 100,000 square feet of green rooftop infrastructure on their studios in Brooklyn.

“Thank you so much Tony for stepping up — for being a good neighbor… and doing the right thing, growing this pantry so that we can serve the community and everyone that has been going through a really hard time,” said Jessica Ramos, State Senator for District 13, which includes Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, at the ribbon cutting.

Argento noted that it was “the persistence” of the senator who made this happen, jokingly noting that it was her calling him every week that pushed the efforts forward.

Ramos also noted that the support of Latino Bites, a restaurant at 85-14 Northern Boulevard, and the volunteers, also made this food pantry possible.

“My neighbors have been hit hard by the pandemic and rising prices. Despite the tough times we are going through, people in this community have stepped up time and time again to care for each other, and to demonstrate what it looks like to welcome new neighbors with love and compassion,” Ramos said in a press release. “I’m so grateful to the Argentos, Latino Bites, and all the volunteers who make CCSO possible. I foresee this being so much more than a food pantry. The energy around this location is going to make it a valuable community space that we can be proud of.”

Grand Marshals Announced for Forest Hills Memorial Day Parade

By Alicia Venter [email protected]
From Left: Mike Arcati, Joseph Connely, Mary Kehoe, Kevin Kehoe, Robert Schnell. Front: Anthony Sarro
  The grand marshals for the Forest Hills Memorial Day Parade were named on Friday at the American Legion Continental Post #1424. The parade, which will be on Sunday, May 28 beginning with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m., will be led by five notable members of the community who have each shown exemplary service in different ways. “This is a point where we take the opportunity to thank our community and veteran heroes,” said Mike Arcati, commander of the American Legion Continental Post #1424. Parade organizers are having their annual VIP Donors Kickoff at the West Side Tennis Club (1 Tennis Place) on Thursday, May 25 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. This event allows us to honor past grand marshals and introduce this year’s Grand Marshals to the parade sponsors,” said Walter Sanchez, president of the Kiwanis Club of Forest Hills. The grand marshals are: Community Service Grand Marshal: Robert Schnell Veteran Grand Marshal of the Year: Anthony Sarro Of the Year: Joseph Conley Law Enforcement Honoree of the Year: Kevin Kehoe First Responder Grand Marshal of the Year: Mary Kehoe Anthony Sarro, who will be 94 in July, served in the Korean Conflict a leader of the explosive ordnance disposal team, and was selected as a veteran grand marshal. “I’m not egoistic about it, but I do consider it an honor and it feels good,” Sarro said in an interview with the Forest Hills Times. “You get a little change in perspective of yourself. You feel a little more proud of yourself — without being egotistical.” “If you don’t know what team leader was in the 1950s, those were the Seals before we had Seals,” Arcati said of Sarro. “The Seals teams didn’t start until the 1960s. What these people did was go underwater and diffuse bombs and torpedoes, one of the most dangerous jobs in the service.” Sarro recalled his favorite war story during his speech: when he found the wedding ring of the wife of a fellow service member after she dropped it in the ocean. “I found a mussel sold down here, and I flipped it aside. As the saints would have it, low and behold, there was the ring,” he said, adding that, “Other than that, we blew things up and made a lot of noise.” Sarro’s son, Anthony Sarro Jr., is very proud of his father, attributing who he is to his father, describing him as “an enabler of good things.” “He is a people person. He entertains, he cares, he is wise and is funny,” Sarro Jr. said. Robert Schnell, 61, is the community service grand marshal of the year, and is part of a running list of volunteer organizations. Deemed the mayor of Forest Hills, he is a ​​Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus, first Vice President of Lions Club International and former president of the Men’s Club of Forest Hills. He is notably involved in numerous organizations devoted to the protection of military dogs. After reading a novel called “Top Dog,” Schnell realized the impact that dogs have had both in their service in the military and to the veterans. He volunteers with the Military Working Dog Heritage Museum, K-9 Hero Haven, Military Working Dog Team Support Association — which supports military K9s and their handlers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard — ​​Leashes of Valor and the US War Dogs Association. Schnell holds the nickname “Mr. Dog,” as his devotion to the protection of war dogs stands alongside him in the American Legion Continental Post #1424 with a wall he ensured would be erected which displays honorable military dogs with their handlers.
Robert Schnell, Mr.Dog, by his wall of war dogs.
Having a service dog drastically helps those leaving the service, drastically reducing veteran suicide, Schnell shared. “The alarming thing is that the war continues and rages on for veterans that are back with us,” Schnell said. Veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than nonveteran adults, according to the American Psychological Association. According to the most recent Annual Report from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs in 2022, the average number of veteran suicides per day in 2022 was 16.8. “When you see a veteran, please say thank you for your service and ask them how they are doing,” Schnell said, “They may give you the conditional, ‘okay, I’m doing alright,’ but maybe they will open up to you.” Joseph Connely was selected as a grand marshal for his military service, which began when he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. He was selected to be part of the Army Security Agency, whose​ primary mission was to locate Viet Cong transmitters operating in the south. “I was 20 years old when I received top secret crypto clearance. People around me were 19 and 20 years old, and had top secret crypto clearance. We’d never thought of anything like this.” Connely served as Chairman of Community Board 2 until 2014. After 40 years of combined law service with the NYC Transit Police Department, NYC Corrections Department and the NYPD, Kevin Kehoe has been selected as the law enforcement grand marshal of the year. He is currently a lieutenant of investigations at the Queens District Attorney’s Office. A military family — including a father who served in the Korean conflict — gave Kehoe an immense value and appreciation for the military. Holding this position in the Memorial Day parade resonated with him on a personal note. “It’s probably the biggest honor in my life, being selected to represent the law enforcement community as a whole. Not just for New York City, but for New York State and for the country,” Kehoe said. Over 20 years of experience, Mary Kehoe will stand beside her husband as the first responder grand marshal of the year. She is currently a public health nurse as P.S. 101, starting her career as a cardiology nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Born in Ridgewood, Kehoe moved to Forest Hills at age seven. “To see the memorial day was always the greatest time. The people, the community, families, all out together. For me to be a grand marshal in this parade I’ve grown up with is absolutely unbelievable. I thank one and all for allowing me to do this. It’s very special to me.” Her father was one of four men who served in the military, and the American Legion Continental Post #1424 was always an important spot for her. “It was always a soft spot in my heart,” she said. Kehoe is among one of the people that helped save the legion when it almost closed in 2018. They have hosted four fundraisers to help support the legion.

Business Improvement Program Expanded into Astoria

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

 

Photo: QDA’s Office

A new program designed to enhance safety around shops, the Astoria Merchants Business Improvement Program, was launched on Tuesday by the Queens District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD.

The program focuses on the small group of individuals who are responsible for the majority of harm done to local businesses, with behavior including shoplifting, harassing and threatening customers and store staff.

Businesses who are part of the program can contact the local precinct when an individual is disrupting business, and the responding officers can issue a trespass notice and warn said individual that if they return to the business, they could be arrested.

Since it launched in Jamaica two years ago, 23 notices have been issued; three arrests have been made, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

There is also a business improvement program in Flushing.

“We need to address the few responsible for the vast majority of the shoplifting and vandalism and for it to stop,” said Melinda Katz, Queens District Attorney, in a statement. “Our goal is to protect local businesses, many of them mom-and-pop shops, and the customers and communities depending on them. We should never lose sight of the fact that communities thrive when local businesses thrive.”

Merchants can enroll in the program through the 114th Precinct.

In Jamaica, there are 25 stores part of the program.

“This a great tool for our small businesses who are many times alone in their establishment and fearful of individuals who habitually enter with the sole purpose of causing harm or chaos,” Marie Torniali, Executive Director of the Steinway Astoria Partnership, said in a statement. “This is not about instant arrest; it is a warning to those individuals not to return. Our merchants will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and continue running their business and assist customers without apprehension.”

Free Events in NYC Parks For Spring: What’s Happening in May 2023

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

 

As the days get longer and the weather begins to stay balmy and pleasant, Queens residents will look to the outdoors in order to enjoy the spring weather.

They need not look far — community organizations and the NYC Parks Department are bringing free events to parks across the borough.

From movie nights to musical performances, read on to find out about events set to be held in Queens through the weekend and the rest of May.

Free Movies in District 26

Starting this weekend, free kid-friendly movies will b

Ravenswood Park after its renovations at the end of 2022. Photo: NYC Parks/David Avila

e available at parks across District 26 through July.

Sponsored by Councilwoman Julie Won and in partnership with the Parks Department, the first movie will be on Friday and will be a screening of Turning Red, starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Thomas P. Noonan Park in Woodside. All movies in this series start at dusk, or 7:30 p.m.

The following dates and films are:

  • June 3 at Windmuller Park, Woodside  — Encanto
  • June 9 at Murray Playground, Long Island City — Soul
  • June 23 at Torsney/Lou Lodati Playground, Long Island City — Finding Nemo
  • June 30 at Ravenswood Park, Astoria — Spider-Man: No Way Home
  • July 9 at Windmuller Park — Minions: The Rise of Gru
  • July 21 at Queensbridge Park, Long Island City — Turning Red

The council woman’s office will offer free popcorn, and attendees are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs.

Pedal Forward at Roy Wilkins Park

Roy Wilkins Park. Photo: Google Maps

Pedal Forward, a free community day event, is set for this Saturday at Roy Wilkins Baseball Field in St. Albans. Starting at noon, the event will include a bike clinic, carnival games, Mother’s Day events, free giveaways and local food events.

Hosted by the Nigel Sylvester Foundation — a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of underserved youth — in partnership with the Southern Queens Park Association, the event will also have a Nigel & Friends kickball game.

Register for the event at www.nigelsylvesterfoundation.org. Enter the park at 116th Ave. and 175th St.

Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival

Photo: JCAL

The Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) is hosting their annual Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival next weekend, starting May 19 with an opening reception at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center. The following day will be held at Rufus King Park, and will feature a number of artists celebrating jazz culture.

Free for all, the festival will free Grammy-award winning and nominated performers, and Saturday’s jam-packed eight-hour showing will feature six artists.

Starting at 12 p.m., all can come to see performers such as Drummer, Latin Grammy Award winner and Southeast Queens local Marcus Gilmore.

RSVP’s are encouraged.

Movies Under the Stars

Travers Park. Photo: Google Maps

This weekend marks the return of Movies Under the Stars, which brings more than 150 film screenings to parks across the city. Through the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, the first event held in Queens this year will be at Rory Staunton Field at Travers Park in Jackson Heights — the 5th Annual Public School Film Festival.

The festival will screen films created by students’ across the city, and start at dusk.

The event is free and open to the public. Bring blankets and chairs to enjoy the talent of the city’s aspiring youth.

Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival Slated for Next Weekend

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

 

Jamaica will be host to a celebration of Jazz culture next weekend (May 19 – May 20), thanks to the Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival.

The flagship event of the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) will begin with an opening reception and performances at 6:30 p.m. at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center (153-10 Jamaica Ave.). Saturday’s full day of performances, set from 12 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., is being moved across the street to the Rufus King Park this year due to an increase in popularity, JCAL shared. The performances for the fourth annual festival will be free for all.

Performers include:

  • Musician and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman (May 19)
  • Jazz drummer and Grammy nominated Johnathan Blake (May 19)
  • Jazz and contemporary pianist Dabin Ryu (May 20)
  • Vibraphonist Patrici Brennan (May 20)
  • Drummer, Latin Grammy Award winner and Southeast Queens local Marcus Gilmore (May 20)
  • Grammy nominated Saxophonist Jaleel Shaw (May 20)
  • Grammy nominated Percussionist Pedrito Martinez (May 20)

RSVP’s are encouraged — visit jcal.org for more information.

The Downtown Jamaica Jazz Festival is a celebration of jazz heritage in Southeast Queens, and JCAL looks to promote generations of talent from the diverse cultures residing in the Jamaica community.

According to JCAL, the festival provides a platform to emerging performers, citing how the opener of the 2021 festival — Samara Joy — won the Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best New Artists at the 2023 Grammy awards.

Photo: JCAL

More than a Mile of Water Mains Installed in Maspeth

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

 

New water mains have been installed in Maspeth, replacing pipes that are over 100 years old. Totaling more than a mile and installed between 61st St. and Hamilton Pl. along Borden Ave. — a primarily residential area adjacent to the Long Island Expressway — the new pipes were a $2.25 million capital project and were completed more than a year ahead of schedule.

Alongside the 5,960 feet of water mains, which were originally set to cost $4.06 million, 19 fire hydrants were replaced and 1,380 square feet of broken sidewalks were replaced. The project was managed by DCC’s in-house construction management team.

“So many Americans have learned hard lessons about the critical importance of water infrastructure,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris in a press release. “I am glad this urgently needed water pipe improvement in Maspeth was done to ensure Queens neighbors have high quality, safe drinking water.”

Construction began in July 2022, and was completed this month, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DCC) announced on May 8. It was initially slated to be completed in July 2024.

“Getting high-quality water to every tap across the five boroughs requires regular investments in our infrastructure and by replacing the water mains that had served this neighborhood for a century, we significantly reduce the risk of leaks and breaks,” said DEP Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala in a press release.

Photo: DCC and DEP

Donovan Richards Touts What’s “Being Built in Queens” in 2023 State of the Borough

By Alicia Venter

[email protected]

 

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards promoted Queens’ innovation, infrastructure and his office’s strategic funding through the past year in his “State of the Borough Address” on Friday, April 28.

Held at Claire Schulman Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Richards focused his speech on the improvements the borough has seen over the past year while providing a glimpse into plans his office has for the future, especially in the Rockaways and Jamaica.

“Years from now, when our kids and grandkids look back on this period of rebirth for New York City, they will know exactly where its renaissance began,” said Richards. “Because that future they will enjoy is being built before our eyes. The city they will inherit is one where equity rules the day, where diversity is embraced, where upward mobility isn’t contingent on your ZIP code. That, my friends, is what’s being built in Queens.”

Investing in Rockaway

Prior to borough president, Richards was a council member representing the Rockaways and parts of southeast Queens.

Self-describing himself as a “biased Rockaway boy,” Richards laid out a long-term plan for growth in the neighborhood, citing systemic issues that he has already addressed there. Since he became borough president, affordable housing developments at Arverne East, Edgemere Commons and Rockaway Village have been built, with residents able to move into the latter already.

In total, 5,000 affordable and supportive housing units have been opened in the three locations, including a number of units set aside for homeless and formerly homeless families.

Arverne East also features a 35-acre beachside nature preserve and 180,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Using geothermal energy, Arverne East will be the first net-zero community in the city.

That’s what’s being built in Queens,” said Richards. “Communities on the front lines of clean energy, community empowerment and the correction of systemic injustice.”

Health and Hospitals recently opened a $30 million clinic in the Rockaways, a neighborhood that Richards shared has only one hotel for 125,000 people.

“It’s no accident that Far Rockaway families experience heart disease, diabetes and other conditions and higher rates than elsewhere in Queens,” he stated. “That is what systemic disinvestment looks like.”

Richards also called upon the MTA to expand the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) CityTicket — a program that makes the LIRR $5 in off peak hours compared to $12.50 —  to Rockaway as well as bring the Fair Fares program to the LIRR. Across Queens, CityTicket has been expanded. Richards claimed that Far Rockaway not having the same benefits “is what systemic racism looks like.”

The Rockaways will also boast “the crown jewel of the Queens Library system,” said Richards — a $33 million new Far Rockaway branch.

“The Rockaways serve as a blueprint for the rest of the city to follow when we talk about community development,” said Richards. “It’s a blueprint we’re utilizing across Queens.”

Changing Jamaica

Richards launched the Downtown Jamaica Improvement Council with council member Natasha Williams last spring, and called upon the Department of Transportation (DOT) to launch a Jamaica Neighborhood Planning Study to take a “holistic, community-led look at how to make Jamaica the premiere live, work and play neighborhood in the city.”

This is personal to Richards, as a Jamaica native, he shared, stating that giving back to the community is the one thing he wants to accomplish while in office.

“Jamaica is already a key business district and a critical transit hub, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of this community’s potential,” he said, citing a need for affordable housing, infrastructure investments, school seats and open space.

To date, the DOT has committed to investing $55 million to Jamaica street improvement projects, shared Richards.

Improving the Airports

Richards launched the Downtown Jamaica Improvement Council with council member Natasha Williams last spring, and called upon the Department of Transportation (DOT) to launch a Jamaica Neighborhood Planning Study to take a “holistic, community-led look at how to make Jamaica the premiere live, work and play neighborhood in the city.”

This is personal to Richards, as a Jamaica native, he shared, stating that giving back to the community is the one thing he wants to accomplish while in office.

“Jamaica is already a key business district and a critical transit hub, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of this community’s potential,” he said, citing a need for affordable housing, infrastructure investments, school seats and open space.

To date, the DOT has committed to investing $55 million to Jamaica street improvement projects, shared Richards.

Reimagining Creedmoor

The future of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center campus was raised by Richards in his address, noting the series of community workshops since February to begin the process of redeveloping the campus.

While it’s his office that will have final say, Richards is inviting the community to provide their input on what the 50 acre campus in Queens Village should be transformed into. It is currently being used as a  small inpatient, outpatient and residential service provider for mentally ill patients. Affordable housing is a leading option for the facility.

“We are making our own blueprint for what community development should look like moving forward,” he said. “At the end of the day, Creedmoor represents a transformative opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the lives of Eastern Queens residents.”

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