- Pledges to Boycott Potential Citizenship Question on 2020 Census
- Shortchanged Borough Ranks First in School Overcrowding, Last in Funding
- Affirms Support for Closing Rikers, Calls Upon City to “Start Anew” on Proposed Queens Jail to Ensure Community Input
- First Boroughwide Vietnam Veterans Memorial to Open This Year
QUEENS, NY – Borough President Melinda Katz delivered her annual State of the Borough address this morning at LaGuardia Community College, highlighting the borough’s priorities, milestones and continued growth over the course of her administration.
The text of the address can be found here.
“We are a borough that isn’t just trying its hardest to hold on in these turbulent times,” Borough President KATZ said. “We are thriving because we are united. It may not always be convenient. In fact, it takes effort, and it requires Queens tough.” Some of Borough President Katz’s key points included:
- QUEENS VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL – Borough President Katz reported on the progress in establishing the first boroughwide memorial in honor of Queens residents who died in the Vietnam War. The Borough President secured the $2.8 million in funding needed to build the memorial and ground was broken for it on November 29, 2018. When it opens later this year in Elmhurst Park, the memorial will bear the names of more than 350 Queens service members who either killed in action in the Vietnam War or are listed as missing. Another installed plaque at the site will recognize Vietnam War veterans from Queens who died or still suffer here at home due to effects of the war, such as exposure to Agent Orange.
- “We know the sacrifices you made, the sacrifices your brothers made, the sacrifices your families made,” Borough President Katz said in addressing the veterans in attendance, who were asked to rise in order to be saluted with an ovation from the rest of the audience.
- 2020 CENSUS – Borough President Katz noted she had fulfilled the pledge she had made in her 2018 State of the Borough Address to create a Queens Complete Count Committee, which will work on the vital task of ensuring Queens is accurately counted in the 2020 Census. She also criticized the plans for a citizenship question on the Census form, saying the question is unnecessary, discriminatory and designed to skew the count by deterring immigrants from responding to the Census questionnaire.
- If the citizenship question ends up being included, the Borough President plans to conduct a personal protest against it by not answering it. “I, Melinda Katz, as an American-born citizen, will boycott the citizenship question, because times like these compel courage by those with the privilege to do so. Because if we aren’t counted, we don’t count. And if any of us are rendered invisible, if any of us are not counted, we all lose.”
- The Queens Complete Count Committee is a bipartisan group of community leaders and government officials will develop comprehensive outreach efforts to make the count here in the borough as accurate as possible.
- QUEENS SCHOOLS “FEELING THE SQUEEZE” – While recognizing the extraordinary quality of Queens public schools, the Borough President said they are performing well despite being the most overcrowded in the city, lamenting, “while we rank first in overcrowding, we also rank last in funding.”
- Queens public schools are at 106 percent capacity, while schools in the other boroughs are operating below capacity. Brooklyn and Manhattan schools, for example, are at just over 85 percent capacity.
- “As a city, we must address these inequities,” the Borough President said as she called for an increase in City funding for school construction in Queens. “Our families and neighborhoods are growing rapidly, outpacing the creation of seats at our schools,” she continued, adding that “if we’re serious about giving our kids better lives than we dreamed of having for ourselves, we cannot afford to be shortchanged.”
- CLOSING RIKERS ISLAND, CREATING BOROUGH-BASED JAILS – The Borough President reiterated her support for closing Rikers Island, but noted that “the irony, however, of unveiling a citywide plan for ‘modern community-based jails’ in the absence of community input is not lost on the boroughs, certainly not here in Queens.”
- “I have been, and I remain, a strong supporter of closing Rikers Island,” the Borough President said. “It is a moral imperative that we overhaul our city’s jails system to one that is safer, more efficient, more humane and less costly. And closing Rikers is an integral part of that.”
- “The irony, however, of unveiling a citywide plan for ‘modern community-based jails’ in the absence of community input is not lost on the boroughs, certainly not here in Queens,” the Borough President added as she decried the lack of community input into the proposal to build a 1.9 million square-foot jail facility on 82nd Avenue in Kew Gardens. “Any plan by the City – especially the siting and design of any new jails – must include meaningful community engagement and input.”
- “The City needs to start anew,” the Borough President concluded. “Their current plan has the closure of Rikers nearly a decade out. There’s still time and opportunity to do it the right way: careful planning in collaboration with affected communities – who are treated as partners in, not irrelevant to, reform – while employing smart criminal justice strategies to reduce the jail population.”
The State of the Borough address was delivered inside LaGuardia Community College’s Mainstage Theater in Long Island City. Arriving guests enjoyed a musical performance from an ensemble from LaGuardia Community College. The program began with the presentation of colors by the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Ceremonial Unit, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem led by Niyireth Valdes of the Mestizo Art Center in Elmhurst.
Dr. Gail Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College, delivered welcoming remarks. Hip hop pioneer, co-founder of “Video Music Box” and Queens native Ralph McDaniels introduced Borough President Katz.
Following the program, a brief reception was held featuring music from the LaGuardia Community College music ensemble and catering by MBJ LIC Catering and Wasserman Supermarket.
JetBlue Airways Corporation, headquartered in Long Island City, was the proud prime sponsor of Borough President Katz’s 2019 State of the Borough event.
Follow Borough President Katz via @QueensBPKatz on Twitter and Facebook