Top Sanders Aide Announces Run For State Assembly
Many who know him believe that he's already making a difference in the Far Rockaway community. In his present role as the district manager for City Councilman James Sanders, Jr., Richards says people in Far Rockaway turn to him when they need help, mainly because he is always there.
Some political experts in that community expected that Richards would fill the seat that Sanders must leave in January of 2010 because of the term limits law.
Richards, however, has confounded the experts by making a decision to take on Assemblywoman Michelle Titus in this year's statewide elections instead. He will challenge the incumbent State Assembly member for her seat in Albany.
Most candidates challenging incumbents do not make it to the assembly but Richards thinks he's got a fair shot.
Early speculation pegged Richards as a likely candidate to run for City Council in 2009 when Sanders' term expires, but instead Richards feels that Far Rockaway is in need of better care and management at the state level.
"We have reached a day where we have to get past mediocre," he said. "Everybody gets a budget. However, it shouldn't stop there, because much more work needs to be done."
"People in Rockaway are tired of being treated like child support recipients," he added. "I don't want to just send money in the mail and not have a relationship with the community."
Richards feels that elected officials have to go above and beyond the call of duty.
His campaign issues include economic and social subjects, but violence in the area is his main focus.
"We need innovative programs for the youth," he said. "But they can't be the regular type of programs; a community center should be a place that kids are swarming to."
Richards says the Rock the Youth tour that he started was an innovative effort and kids flocked to the events.
Music is a way to bring kids in, but it can't stop there, he says. Richards feels that youth need activities to which they can relate.
He also believes that violence can be kept to a minimum if the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) would take a more aggressive approach in ensuring that the only people residing in the housing projects are the ones who are officially registered as residents. The projects, he added, cannot be a safe haven for criminals who don't live there.
"NYCHA has to be more aggressive when it comes to inspecting apartments," he said. "They have to take a better approach to making sure that whoever is on the lease is staying in that location."
He added that the community and police must develop a relationship because too many people are fearful of calling authorities when there is a problem, adding that people must be respected by police and feel comfortable enough to speak with them.
"They are scared that if they call the police they will have to give them their name and the police will come and knock on their doors."
He thinks there should be an independent phone line that people can call to ensure the prevention of retribution on callers by gang members and career criminals.
"A lot of people want to give information, but are scared it will be traced back to them."
Richards thinks it can work. He believes if police can develop a proper relationship with the hard working people of Far Rockaway then the results will come. However, he says, it must be a two-way street between both parties.
Another reason he decided to run for assembly is that he thinks Far Rockaway has been neglected on the state level in several aspects. In particular, the absence of a handicap accessible subway service on Mott Avenue.
"It is ludicrous that we have not addressed this issue at a state level. There is no reason people living at Beach 9 Street, should have to travel to Beach 116 Street to get on a train."
Richards also talked about the economic potential for Thriftway Mall on Mott Avenue and the need for people to stay on the peninsula for everything they want.
"We should not have to go to Jamaica Avenue or Manhattan to have a good time," he said. "It's right here, it is a beautiful place."
He thinks he could get these things done for the area because his heart is in his work. He cares about the community and wants to see it blossom to its full potential.
"I will go above and beyond because the people's needs must be met," he said.
Richards, 25, is a graduate of Nyack College and got his start in politics at an early age. When Richards was 12, his pastor thought he was community conscious and sent him on a mission trip to Port-au-Prince, Haiti for nearly a month. In a short time, Richards learned about life's many struggles.
"I saw at an early age to value life; I saw people without running water and trying to hustle for a meal," he said. "Those things fostered the community activist in me at an early age."
The defining moment for Richards however, was in 2003 when his friend, Darnell Patterson, was shot and killed in South Jamaica.
"When I walked down the aisle during the funeral my inner voice inside told me to do something with your life to save another young man and make a difference in your community."
A week later Mothers Against Guns and Councilman James Sanders, Jr. held a gun violence meeting. The 19- year-old Richards spoke his piece about violence and Sanders gave him his business card.
Several months later Richards was working with the councilman and would eventually fit perfectly as his main liaison to the community. Serving as Sanders' district manager, he took an active role in the community.
Now as Richards embarks on the next phase of his political and activist career, he is preparing to give Far Rockaway hope that a difference can and will be made.
"We need someone in the Assembly position that will be there for the community and provide a strong voice," he said. "It is time for new ideas, new actions, and a new outcome."