When Sharon Lee was named “acting borough president” on January 6 when Melinda Katz assumed the role of district attorney, she was supposed to hold the post until the special election scheduled for March 24.
However, the coronavirus outbreak put the kibosh on that special election, and it was instead rescheduled for June 23, the same day as New York’s presidential primary. But last week Governor Andrew Cuomo threw a monkey wrench in that plan as well.
Instead of holding a special election, Queens voters will take part in a traditional primary, meaning that whoever wins will have to run again in the November general election. Which means that “Acting” Borough President Sharon Lee will remain borough president until at least November.
It could be longer than that, as it is unclear if the winner of the general election will take office immediately, or wait until January and the official end of the remainder of Katz’s term, which is how the transfer of power would normally take place.
"This is an extraordinary time. The Borough President's Office, however, remains open, operational and fully committed to serving the constituents of Queens," said Lee in a statement. "I made a commitment to represent and serve the people and families of Queens, to the best of my ability and for as long as necessary, and this commitment still stands."
And why the heck not?
As far as we’re concerned, Lee has been doing a great job of leading the borough through the biggest crisis it has faced since Hurricane Sandy, and the COVID-19 outbreak will likely prove to be even more devastating than that natural disaster when it’s all said and done, at least taken from the perspective of the borough as a whole.
For starters, Lee was quick to spearhead an initiative to raise funds to pay local restaurants shuttered due to the pandemic to prepare meals for hospital and other frontline workers, a symbiotic relationship that has been copied by other groups throughout the borough and city.
And while no one is really talking that much about it, Lee is still keeping attention on the 2020 Census - which will be huge for Queens in terms of resources and representation - recently hosting a virtual meeting of the Borough Board with a Census rep and opening a Census Outreach Center at Borough Hall.
With the COVID-19 outbreak dominating the headlines, Queens could lose out big if people ignore their duties as citizens to complete the Census form. And going door-to-door to remind them to do it could prove problematic as we all continue to social distance.
Changing leadership and trying to install a whole new staff at Borough Hall in the middle of this crisis does seems counterintuitive.
So in a way, Cuomo’s decision is welcome news for Queens residents, but not all of the candidates were excited to hear it.
And to be fair, there are questions about whether Cuomo’s move is the best for a fair and democratic process which, outbreak or no outbreak, must also be taken into consideration.
Particularly upset is former assistant district attorney James Quinn, who only petitioned to run in the special election, not in a primary. He could still run in the general election later this year if he utilized a little-known political move known as a Wilson-Pakula, which allow the Republican Party to give their line to a registered Democrat.
“The voters of Queens have been subjected to confusing, vague and legally questionable edicts surrounding this election since the pandemic began,” the Quinn campaign said in a statement. “Queens, a county of 2.5 million people, will now have an unelected borough president for a year.”
Also upset was candidate Dao Yin, who pointed out that the move to a primary election means that only registered Democrats will be allowed to vote, disenfranchising Republican, Conservative and independent voters.
“There are nearly 1.2 million registered voters in Queens but only approximately 750,000 of them are registered Democrats,” said Aaron Foldenauer, Yin’s campaign manager. “Thus, approximately 450,000 voters now have no voice as to the next leader of Queens during these difficult times.”
Still, we guess if we are going to have an “acting” borough president for the rest of the year, we could do a lot worse than Sharon Lee.