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Richards to challenge Titus

Donovan Richards, who has been working in City Councilman James Sanders' (D-Laurelton) office, said he is aiming to shake up the political world this fall.

Richards, 25, began collecting signatures last week to run against state Assemblywoman Michelle Titus (D-Far Rockaway) in the Democratic primary this September. The candidate said he wants to represent the 31st Assembly District, which includes Laurelton, Springfield Gardens and the Rockaways, because he believes the community does not have a strong voice in Albany.

"This is not for me. I'm running for the people who need help," said Richards, who serves as Sanders' district manager.

Titus, 38, said she welcomed Richards' entry into the race, but added that she was the better candidate to represent the neighborhood.

"Since I've been in office I think I have been able to cultivate and help my community. I'm continued to work on helping them with their needs," she said.

The city Board of Elections rules for this year's election specify that potential candidates for the Assembly must collect 500 signatures starting June 3 to be eligible for the Sept. 9 primary. Candidates must then formally apply to enter the race between July 7 to July 10.

Although Richards said he does respect the assemblywoman, he said she is out of touch with the community because she rarely attends community events or raises her voice for issues.

He added that she does not take a strong stand on community concerns, such as the rise in violence in southeast Queens and the need to rebuild the relationship between residents and police.

"We have to show up at meetings, be on the ground and know what's going on," Richards said.

Titus brushed off those comments, saying she always keeps her ear close to her neighborhoods.

"I've been going to the district meetings all the time with the people, especially the PTA," she said.

Both Titus and Richards made their cases for the seat by citing their years of activism for the southeast Queens community.

While attending Nyack College in upstate New York, Richards decided to go into politics after his friend, Darnell Patterson, was killed on the streets of Jamaica in 2003. He said that although he felt like using violence to retaliate, he wanted to take a more intellectual course of action.

After meeting Sanders at an anti-gun rally shortly after the funeral, Richards joined the councilman's office and worked his way up to a full-time staffer.

"I really felt I made a difference in someone's life, working as an engineer for action," said Richards, who moved around often with his parents in many southeast Queens neighborhoods.

Titus has had a long legal career, working as an attorney for various government agencies including the State Attorney General's Office and the city's Board of Education, where she was a special education lawyer.

The Rockaway native served as former state Sen. Ada L. Smith's chief of staff before being elected in 2002 during a special election that took place after her predecessor, Pauline Rhodd-Cummings, died.

Titus said her main focus over the years has been education and she will continue to see the state give New York City more resources to educate its children.

"The city has cut a lot of programs such as arts, music and physical education," she said. "These are basics, but I believe that they are crucial for a child's development."

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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