New York City borough presidents
New York City Boroughs
By Andrew Stevens, City Mayors Fellow*

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New York’s Borough Presidents:
Influential beyond their powers

March 2022: Bloomberg, Giuliani, Dinkins, Koch, the roll call of New York City leaders is notable by any city’s standards, as flyers to its LaGuardia airport can attest. Though weighty civic offices in their own right, the presidents of the five boroughs on the other hand enjoy less national or global prominence but possess considerable boss-like patronage and influence over local communities across the city.  NYC’s new Mayor Eric Adams served as Brooklyn’s Borough President for two terms from 2013, prior to his election as successor to the term-limited Bill de Blasio last November.

New York City government
Like many American cities, New York City operates under a strong mayor-council model, though its city council is the nation’s largest with 51 elected members. The city council holds New York’s mayors to account, while also legislating and budgeting over a range of municipal issues across the five boroughs - The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. At the last city elections held November 2021, the Democrats achieved an almost clean sweep, with 46 seats of the 51 districts contested, leaving the minority Republicans trailing with just five council members.

Operating under its City Charter, as the city government for New York, the council is responsible for a range of local services provided through mayoral agencies (usually overseen by a deputy mayor) in the realm of city planning, public schools, welfare, waste, criminal justice (e.g. probation), parks, policing, among others. It is not responsible for the Port Authority (which administers much of the regional transportation infrastructure) however, as this is a joint venture between the states of New York and New Jersey.

The city council owes its origins to the port of New Amsterdam under the Dutch West India Company in 1625, before the emergence of the so-called consolidated New York City in 1898 which covered a wider area than the original settlement and its Common Council and Board of Aldermen (these modelled on the ancient City of London Corporation). The 1898 consolidation principally entailed the amalgamation of a number of separate counties and municipalities into one entity known as New York City, with legislative functions residing with the city council under the new City Charter and a new Board of Estimate created as an administrative agency for the city.

New York City 5 boroughsNYC’s five boroughs
This brings us to the five boroughs themselves, as well as the Board of Estimate. The boroughs came into existence under the 1898 reforms to the city which created the modern-day city council and its associated bodies, spreading the city itself across several distinct separate counties: New York County, Kings County, Queens County and Richmond County. This was followed by the 1899 secession of the eastern portion of Queens to become the new Nassau County outside of the city and the separation of New York County between Manhattan and The Bronx in 1914. The boroughs were fashioned from the old counties and the municipalities they contained into five distinct units within New York City, though they also still exist as counties of New York State for judicial purposes through the election of District Attorneys for each county (to the effect that Manhattan is served by the New York County District Attorney). Richmond was renamed Staten Island in 1975.

Under the 1898 reforms to the City Charter, rather than acting as independent sub-municipalities as is the case in other global cities, the five boroughs functioned as integral parts of the city government of New York through the Board of Estimate on which they sat alongside the Mayor, Council President and City Comptroller. The Board exercised considerable jurisdiction over the municipal budget, land use planning and contracts (all notorious aspects of NYC history, from Boss Tweed to Robert Moses) and was further expanded under Mayor Fiorella La Guardia in 1938. As members of the Board, each borough president (BP) had one vote, compared to two for each of the city-wide officials, with its existence deemed unconstitutional following a US Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that the boroughs lacked weighted votes by population in violation of the principle of equal protection under the fourteenth amendment (“one person one vote”). As a consequence, following a city-wide referendum in 1990, carried 55-45, the Board was abolished and its functions folded into the city council, arguably the high watermark for the boroughs and thus curbing their historic powers.

Today the boroughs are often seen outside of their geographic and cultural basis as ceremonial units of the wider city administration, not least as some New Yorkers also identify with their neighbourhood within the city overall (e.g. Park Slope or Jackson Heights). While the city council, through the offices of the Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, concerns itself with municipal services across the city, the boroughs are where community politics can happen. In and of themselves, each BP acts as the borough administration, with less in the way of checks and balances as there are no elected borough councils to hold them to account. Instead, each borough has its own board consisting of the BP, local city council members and the heads of each community board in the borough (an office appointed to by the presidents themselves). The boroughs do not levy any local taxes but instead receive five per cent of the New York City Council Capital Grant Program to spend on their own local priorities for capital project funding, cultural organisations and educational programmes. For instance, of the $95.1bn total Budget for the City Council in 2021, just $25m was allocated to the five BPs’ budgetary purview.

The main powers of the BPs under the City Charter can be understood as follows:

• to lead and represent their borough, speaking up for it within the city government, by using their soft power and “bully pulpit”
• to coordinate local action and work by the city council through monthly cabinet meetings of city officials, holding special hearings on local issues as necessary
• acting as the community’s voice on land use planning issues (zoning) in the borough when the city council receives proposals for development
• appointing members to each of the 59 community boards across the city, as well as members of the City Planning Commission and Board of Education
• control their allocated local budget to fund community projects 

In spite of their relatively narrow powers and resources, the boroughs still offer scope for localised decision-making and influence over the city council, its budget and legislation, compared to other large cities in the US (for instance the 40 non-partisan Advisory Neighborhood Commissions elected under the Washington DC Home Rule Charter). For instance, BPs have the right to propose bills to the city council (though they cannot vote and require a council member to co-sponsor), with this route seeing a number of recent new city laws being introduced, such as former Manhattan BP Gale Brewer’s initiated legislation on extending sick pay and ending discrimination against prospective employees with criminal records.

The Borough presidents
Of the five, four borough presidents were inaugurated for their first terms in January 2022 following the November 2021 elections in the city. Donovan Richards was elected as Queens BP in November 2020 during a special election to replace Melinda Katz after her successful run for Queens County District Attorney. 

Four of the five are Democrats and all five have held previous public office as members of the city council. Staten Island’s Vito Fossella is the lone Republican BP, in addition to an earlier stint on the city council he has also represented the city in the US House of Representatives. Vanessa Gibson, the current sole female borough boss, also served one term in the New York State Assembly prior to her election to the city council. BP Gibson is the first female and first African-American to hold the office in The Bronx. Donovan Richards is also African-American, while Antonio Reynoso’s parents are from the Dominican Republic. Manhattan’s Mark Levine is Jewish and though a Republican, Fossella hails from an important Italian political family in New York City politics for the Democratic Party. Levine and Fossella are also the only BPs to have worked professionally outside of politics (teaching and law, respectively).

Outside of Staten Island, which has swung between the two parties throughout its existence as a borough, the Democrats largely occupy each of the borough halls. Queens last elected a Republican in 1952, while Manhattan has not had a Republican BP since 1945. Both the late David Dinkins and his close supporter Eric Adams have used the office of borough president as a stepping stone to the mayoralty. Like NYC mayors, each BP is also limited to two terms of office.

The salary for each of the borough presidents is $179,200 a year, increased from $160,000 following a 2016 vote of the New York City Council. For comparison, city council members take home $148,500 while the mayor receives $258,750 annually. The 2016 rises were the first in a decade and also introduced the requirement that city public offices be full-time posts.

List of 21st century
NYC Borough Presidents

MANHATTAN: Population 1.69 million
C Virginia Fields
From 01/01/1998 to 31/12/2005
Elected New York City councillor in 1989. Elected Borough President in 1997. In 2005, Fields ran for Democrat candidate for NYC mayor but finished third. She left politics in 2006 after a failed attempt to became a candidate for the New York State Senate. Post politics, Fields became President of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.
Scott Stringer
From 01/01/2006 to 31/12/2013
From 1992 to 2005 member of the New York State Assembly. Elected NYC Borough President in 2005, after being endorsed by the New York Times. In Stringer's first term as Borough President, he supported healthier eating, bike lanes and opposed hydraulic fracking. In 2009, he won a second term having dismissed calls for the abolition of the post. From 2014 to 2021, New York City Comptroller.
Gayle Brewer
From 01/01/2014 to 31/12/2021
Member of New York City Council from 2002 to 2013 and again from 1 January 2022 to date. During her first stint as city council member, she was re-elected three times, on each occasion with more than 80 per cent of the vote.
Mark Levine
From 01/01/2022 to date
Member of New York City Council from 2014 to 2021. During his time as city council member, he supported the rights of low-income tenants and promoted the construction of affordable housing. He chaired the City Council's health committee during the Covid pandemic.
BRONX: Population 1.47 million
Fernando Ferrer
From 15/04/1987 to 31/12/2001
Member of New York City Council from 1982 to 1987. As Chair of the Health Committee Ferrer fought against discrimination of gay and lesbian New Yorkers. Appointed Bronx Borough President in 1987. During Ferrer's years as Borough President, the Bronx enjoyed an economic revival, with the construction of tens of thousands of affordable homes and a fall in crime. In 1997 and 2001, he failed to become the Democrat candidate for NYC mayor. He became the Democrat candidate in 2005 but was convincingly defeated by Michael Bloomberg in the general election.
Adolfo Carrión
From 01/012002 to 19/02/2009
Member of New York City Council from 1998 to 2001. Following his one-term stint as council member, Carrión decided to run for Bronx Borough President. He was elected in November 2001 and re-elected in 2005. In 2009, the then newly elected US President Obama appointed Carrión to his cabinet as Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. In 2010, Obama appointed him as regional director of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), where he served until 2012. In January 2022, the newly elected NYC Mayor Eric Adams appointed Carrión Commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing.
Earl D Brown
From 19/02/2009 to 21/05/2009
Acting Borough President upon the resignation of Adolfo Carrión.
Ruben Diaz
From 21/05/2009 to 31/12/2021
Member of the New York State Assembly from 1997 to 2009. During his years in the Assembly, Diaz supported social and environmental causes and authored / co-sponsored several pieces of legislation. In May 2009, Diaz won the special election for Bronx Borough President. He was re-elected in 2013 and 2017. In 2018, Diaz briefly declared himself a candidate for NYC Mayor but dropped out in January 2020.
Vanessa Gibson
From 01/01/2022 to date
Member of New York City Council from 2014 to 2021. As council member, she campaigned for the elimination of homelessness and food poverty. As Chair of the city's Public Safety Committee, Gibson she was responsible for the co-operation between the city's police force (NYPD) and civilian organisations. In the 2021 general election, Gibson was elected Bronx Borough President with almost 80 per cent of the vote.
BROOKLYN: Population 2.74 million
Howard Golden
From 03/01/1977 to 31/12.2001
While Golden never openly attempted to achieve higher office, he became a Democrat powerbroker during his years as Borough President.
Marty Markowitz
From 01/01/2002 to 31/12/2013
Member of the New York State Senate from 1979 to 2001. After a failed attempt to unseat Howard Golden as Borough President in 1985, Markowitz was elected to the post in 2001. During his years in office, Markowitz became the recognised face of Brooklyn. He became known for his publicity stunts as well as for his efforts to attract tourism and technology companies to the Borough.
Eric Adams
From 01/01/2014 to 31/12/2021
Member of the New York State Senate from 2007 to 2013. Prior to his years in the NY Senate, Adams served as a New York police (NYPD) officer for 22 years. While in the Senate, Adams opposed the NYPD's stop and search policy. He also supported stricter gun control. In the 2013 Borough President election, Adams won with more than 80 per cent of the vote. Adams never made a secret of the fact that his ultimate political ambition was to become New York City Mayor. Many of his initiatives and activities were designed to boost his city-wide profile. While NY borough presidents usually do not engage in international affairs, Adams' international travel included trips to Africa, Cuba and several visits to China and Israel. In November 2021, Adams was elected Mayor of New York City.
Antonio Reynoso
From 01/01/2022 to date
Member of the New York City Council from 2014 to 2021.
QUEENS: Population 2.41 million
Claire Shulman
From 11/02/1986 to 31/12/2001
After first being elected to the post of Borough President by Queens' New York City Council members, Shulman in 1986, following the resignation of her predecessor, won the popular vote for the post later the same year. Subsequently, she was re-elected three times. Early in her tenure, she came out against re-zoning proposals which would have allowed to build middle-income apartment blocks in neighbourhoods consisting mainly of detached homes. After her years as Borough President, Shulman set up a local development company which became involved in a lobbying controversy, which led to Shulman's company being fined and found guilty of lobbying elected officials to win approval of 'favoured' projects.
Helen Marshall
From 01/01/2002 to 31/12/2013
Member of the New York State Assembly from 1983 to 1991. Member of the New York City Council from 1992 to 2001. While campaigning, Marshall cited as her priorities health care, education and housing. She also felt that the Borough should do more to attract tourists away from Manhattan.
Melinda Katz
From 01/01/2014 to 31/12/2019
Member of the New York State Assembly from 1994 to 1999. Member of New York City Council from 2002 to 2009. During her tenure in the State Assembly, Katz gained a reputation for vigorously promoting women's health issues. Several of her legal drafts became law. In 1998, she ran for the US Congress but narrowly lost in the Democrat primaries. During her time on the City Council, she was Chair of the Committee of Land Use. In 2013, Katz was elected Borough President and re-elected four years later. Since January 2020, Katz has been District Attorney for Queens County.
Sharon Lee
From 01/01/2020 to 06/12/2020
Acting Borough President following the resignation of Melinda Katz.
Donovan Richards Democrat
From 02/12/2020 to date
Member of New York City Council from 2013 to 2020. Richards became Borough President for the remainder of Melinda Katz's term after winning a special election of 3 November 2020. In November 2021, he was re-elected for a full four-year term.
STATEN ISLAND: Population 0.50 million
Guy Molinari
From 01/01/1990 to 31/12/2001
Member of the New York State Assembly from 1975 to 1980. Member of the US House of Representatives from 1981 to 1989. He resigned from the House to run for Borough President.
James Molinaro
From 01/01/2002 to 31/12/2013
Deputy Borough President from 1990 to 2001. Following his tenure as Borough President, Molinaro joined the boards of a number medical and health organisations.
James Oddo
From 01/01/2014 to 31/12/2021
Member of New York City Council from 1999 to 2013. In 2022, Oddo joined the administration of NYC Mayor Adams as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Mayor for Operations.
Vito Fossella
From 01/01/2022 to date
Member of the New York City Council from 1994 to 1997. Member of the US House of Representatives from 1997 to 2009.

* The research was carried out in February and March 2022

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