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Sanders’ chief of staff eyes future as city councilman

TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) will be term-limited out of his southeast Queens district in 2013 and his young chief of staff is already making plans to make a smooth transition into the seat.

Donovan Richards, 28, registered a campaign committee for the 31st Council District with the state Board of Elections last week.

The Springfield Gardens resident said that after nine years with the councilman, he has learned quite a bit about the business of being a Council member.

“I’ve opened up a lot of relationships with gatekeepers. It wasn’t hard to know who to call,” he said, chronicling his rise from intern to Sanders’ righthand man. “Of course, when you’re the chief of staff, people come to the phone a little quicker.”

Richards said that while no one had technically confirmed they would challenge him for the seat, he expected to face “the same contingent from last time.”

In the 2009 primary for the seat, Sanders had his strongest challenge from Jacques Leandre, president of the Rosedale Jets Football Association.

Leandre said he was in talks with his committee regarding a 2013 campaign for the City Council.

“I’m having numerous discussions with civic and community-based organizations, as well as labor and unions,” he said. “I’m very close to finalizing the decision shortly.”

The 31st District currently covers Laurelton, Rosedale, Brookville and part of Springfield Gardens, although the boundaries are set to be redrawn for the 2013 election.

Sanders praised Richards as a “disciplined political operator.”

“This district I love a great deal, and it would do well to have such a person looking out for its interests in the Council,” he said. “It’s a little early to endorse right now, but I can see no reason why not.”

Richards spoke with TimesLedger Newspapers Tuesday, the nine-year anniversary of the day his friend Darnell Patterson was shot and killed in South Jamaica and his own political career began.

“I met the councilman at a gun violence meeting a week after,” he said. “That was today in 2003.”

Richards said he was proud of the anti-gun initiatives he had worked on with Sanders, including a bill to change the legal age to purchase ammunition and a gun buyback event.

He said his campaign will focus on youth mentoring, flooding in Rosedale and Springfield Gardens and foreclosures in southeast Queens.

“I want to work on legislation that could help curtail foreclosures. Even though it’s more of a federal issue, I want to see what more the city can do,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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