Metro

Donovan Richards pushing plan to boost diversity in community boards

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Queens Borough President Donovan Richards is pushing a quota-like selection system for the borough’s 14 community boards in a controversial bid at gaining more diversity on the panels, which weigh in on virtually all local projects, The Post has learned.

Richards appoints half the members to the advisory boards and local council members the other half. The boards often wield influence on key land use issues as well as on locating bars and restaurants in neighborhoods and sidewalk cafe permits.

A source forwarded to The Post a recent letter that Richards sent to council members recommending new appointments based on his affirmative action plan that takes into account the current composition of the boards with regards to race, age and sexual identity as well as census data.

For Community Board 9 covering Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill, Ozone Park and Woodhaven, for example, Richards said council members appointments should be “between the ages of 16-45, 56-65, of Asian, Black and Latino/x background and female/gender non-conforming.”

The CB 9 district has a large Hispanic population and a growing south Asian and central Asian population. But Latinos, who make up 40 percent of the population, accounted for only 16 percent of the 47 community board members.

Queens Councilman Robert Holden
Queens Councilman Robert Holden warns that Donovan Richards’ diversity plan could be discriminatory.
Brigitte Stelzer

Queens Councilman Robert Holden, who makes selections to CB5, blasted the quota-type system.

“We should appoint people who are most committed to their neighborhoods and who are the best candidates. You don’t look at race, ethnicity or age,” said Holden, who served on CB 5 for 30 years before being elected to office.

He expressed concern that racial and ethnic preferences, while well-intended, could lead to accusations of discrimination.

“You don’t want to be charged with racism or ageism,” Holden said.

For CB6, which takes in Forest Hills and Rego Park, Richards recommends selecting new board members who are ages 16 to 35, “of Asian ethnic background based on the latest census data” as well as women.

The neighborhoods have a growing population of Bukharan Jews from central Asian countries, particularly Uzbekistan, as well as Chinese immigrants, who combined make up about a third of the population. But only five board members of Asian descent, or 13 percent, served on the board.

The borough president also recommended younger and Asian and Latino appointees in CB5 that covers Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth.

The census says the district is about half-white but 69 percent of the CB5 appointees are white. A smaller percentage of Hispanics served on the board than its 36 percent population in the CB5 district.

Showing a Community meeting at PS 223 at 125-20 Sutphin Blvd. in Queens, NY for those effected by sewage floods in South Ozone Park, Queens.
Richards defended his diversity initiative, arguing more younger and minority residents ought to be community board members.
Brigitte Stelzer

Richards defended his initiative, noting that last year, a record-shattering 941 residents applied to serve on community boards and 884 applied this year, thanks in large part to the diversity outreach and push.

“Borough President Richards has been outspoken and determined in his efforts to ensure that Queens’ 14 community boards look, sound and feel like the communities they represent,” his spokesman said.

“Our office is deeply proud of this critical, New York City Charter-mandated work to correct historic demographic inequities — beginning with last year’s successful community board application process, in which significant progress was made — and this work will continue with this year’s process. The Borough President looks forward to appointing a diverse, dynamic class of public servants who will not only represent their communities with vigor, but help lead Queens toward a brighter future.”

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