When Melinda Katz was sworn in as the new district attorney of Queens following the death of longtime DA Richard Brown, her deputy borough president Sharon Lee was only supposed to hold the post until a special election to replace her former boss could be held on March 24.
And then the world was turned upside down.
COVID-19 hit hard. The city was essentially shut down on March 16 and the special election was called off out of an abundance of safety. Instead, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that a primary would be held in June, followed by a general election in November.
A special election is nonpartisan, which means the winner would have assumed the post immediately. When the mayor announced it would be replaced by a primary followed by a general election, it meant that Lee was going to be “acting” borough president for a lot longer than the three months she anticipated.
And what a trying time to be leading the borough. In March and April, Queens was the epicenter of the outbreak not just in New York City, but the nation. National news outlets were focused on the growing crisis at the overwhelmed Elmhurst Hospital, where beds were scarce and people were dying at an alarming rate.
And then there was the job losses, evictions, food insecurity and unrest in the streets due to Black Lives Matter protests, issues that were affecting people whether they were battling coronavirus or not.
Lee could have simply embraced the “acting” part of her title and stayed in the background. Instead, she threw herself into the role and organized food drives and virtual job fairs and PPE giveaways to help the borough cope with the pandemic.
And then there were the day-to-day responsibilities of running Borough Hall, worldwide pandemic or not. She continued to hold land use hearings and host meetings of the Borough Cabinet.
She weighed in on the Special Flushing Waterfront District, issuing a bold recommendation against the project.
On Sunday, Donovan Richards was sworn in as the new Queens borough president, marking the end of Lee’s tumultuous and unlikely 11 months in office.
"It has been an honor to serve as borough president throughout this particularly challenging year,” Lee said in a statement after the Board of Elections certified the results. “Thank you. Despite staying on much longer than expected, my commitment to serve the people of Queens as necessary is now fulfilled. We have worked together toward a seamless transition, and the Borough of Families is now in great hands with incoming Borough President Donovan Richards."
We’re not sure there was anyone else better suited to lead the borough through 2020 than Sharon Lee.
Now Richards will serve out the rest of Katz’s term, which runs through 2021.
With Richards’ swearing-in official, that means his City Council seat, which includes the neighborhoods of Far Rockaway, Rosedale, Laurelton and Springfield Gardens, is now vacant.
The mayor announced last week that a special election to replace Richards will be held on February 23. The winner will hold the post until December 31, 2021.
That means just months after the special election, there will a June primary and a November general election to decide who will hold the post for a full term that begins on January 1, 2022.
Voters in south Queens are going to be busy!