Assemblymember Diana Richardson will become Deputy Borough President under the new beep, Antonio Reynoso.
Richardson has represented the 43rd District (encompassing Prospect Lefferts Gardens, along with parts of Crown Heights and Flatbush) since 2015. Now, though, she will join Reynoso at Borough Hall as his number 2.
Thus far she has been tasked with developing policy and strategy in three areas: combating gun violence, addressing food insecurity, and reforming community boards.
“Right now I represent three communities, now I will represent the entire borough,” Richardson told Brooklyn Paper in an interview. “Then, I would have an opportunity to work on the issues that I care about the most, the same issues that I’ve legislated and paid attention to here, but now directly on the ground.”
The Borough President today is largely a ceremonial role, though the holder retains a non-binding role in the city’s land use process and gets to make appointments to community boards and other panels.
On top of that, the position comes with a significant bully pulpit to highlight issues important to them, and the beep is often seen as a stepping stone to higher office: Reynoso’s predecessor in the role, Eric Adams, is now the mayor.
Richardson will be leaving an elected post in Albany, where she can vote on legislation and budgets, for an unelected city position, but she doesn’t see the move as a step-down.
“I don’t see this as a step-down at all, but it’s really a tremendous opportunity to really work with the people on the ground more closely,” Richardson said. “For all intents and purposes, it’s a promotion. It puts me closer with the people that I got involved to serve in the very first place. Remember, when you run for office as an elected official, it’s the people that are the driver. The politics in the place where you go to serve them is the outcome, but it’s the people you get in to serve. Now, this is more of what I love to do, I’m just so excited.”
“Also, I’m number 2 in the borough,” she continued. “And I’m not number 2 in the Assembly.”
Reynoso’s campaign platform encompassed reforming community boards, which he characterized in a Brooklyn Paper op-ed last year as important bodies of citizen democracy but unrepresentative of their communities in a range of ways — including race, gender, age, and renter vs. homeowner status. He pledged to retool the recruitment process to reach more potential members from underserved communities, make virtual hearings a permanent fixture to improve civic participation, and provide them with greater funding, resources, and staff.
Now, having won the race, Reynoso is putting Richardson in charge of achieving that vision.
“I’m looking forward to ensuring that boards are diverse and that boards are functioning to their optimal level,” Richardson said. “That the boards are well-resourced and that we have community residents on the boards that are activated and doing the work of the people.”
The two other policy areas under Richardson’s initial purview, gun violence and food insecurity, are ones that she has focused on in the Assembly, as both issues are prevalent in her district and have been dramatically exacerbated by the pandemic. She says that she wants to ensure that the resources and funds of the Borough President’s office get used to actually address the issues across the whole population of Kings County, and address their root causes rather than just the resulting harms.
Richardson and Reynoso both come from the progressive flank of the Democratic Party and they’ve been allied on various issues over the years. As such, they see each other as allies and praised one another for their vision and character.
“For years, Assemblymember Richardson has been an unwavering progressive voice and a powerful advocate for her community in Central Brooklyn,” Reynoso said in a statement. “From tackling food insecurity and gun violence in our communities to delivering historic tenant protections and criminal justice reform, Diana has been on the frontlines fighting for the kind of progressive policies that transform communities.”
“Diana has shown time and again that she is committed to standing up for the most vulnerable among us, and I know that she shares our vision of creating a Brooklyn that works for all of us,” the new beep continued. “I’m proud to bring her on as Deputy Borough President and ready to get to work together advocating for all Brooklynites.”
Richardson and Reynoso have also historically been in lockstep in their views on the county party’s leadership, with each calling for incumbent chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn’s ouster in November and calling for reform in the institution. Reynoso entered elected office in 2013 after beating disgraced former party chair Vito Lopez in a City Council primary, which he described as a blow to the Brooklyn machine.
More recently, in 2020, Richardson faced a primary challenge from former State Sen. Jesse Hamilton, the Democrat who caucused with Republicans, giving control of the chamber to the GOP, who was booted from office by Zellnor Myrie in 2018. The party declined publicly to back Richardson despite a vow to back incumbents, which she surmised was the party’s way of tacitly backing Hamilton and taking revenge on her for previously endorsing Myrie; near the end the campaign, which Richardson won in a landslide, she publicly spoke out against Bichotte and called for an “overhaul” of the county party.
After Richardson takes her post as Deputy BP, her Assembly seat will be up for grabs in a special election called by the governor. Richardson said that she, Myrie, and Rep. Yvette Clarke have their pick to replace her: Jelanie DeShong, who currently serves as Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs in the governor’s office.
Since it’s a special election, the Democratic nominee will be decided in County Committee rather than in a competitive primary. Asked for comment, Bichotte Hermelyn did not express a preference for any candidate.
“As is the case with any vacancy in the Legislature or Congress, the grassroots County Committee will vote on a replacement,” Bichotte Hermelyn said. “I congratulate the Assemblymember on her new endeavors and wish her well.”
The County Committee vote for Richardson’s replacement has not been scheduled, as no special election has yet been called. The Committee will vote Sunday, however, on the Democratic nominee to replace Charles Barron in East New York’s 60th District, where a special election is scheduled for Feb. 15.