By Domenick Rafter
Editor in Chief
Melinda Katz was first elected to office in a special election in 1994 at the age of 28. Running on the Liberal Party line, she defeated both a Democrat and a Republican to be elected to the State Assembly representing a district centered in her native Forest Hills that also included Rego Park and parts of Glendale and Middle Village. She won the Assembly seat vacated by Alan Hevesi, who had been elected City Comptroller several months earlier.
In the Assembly, Katz – as the youngest woman in the body at the time – had a special focus on women’s issues, authorizing legislation that required HMOs to provide gynecological care to women without forcing them to see a primary care physician first – a law that later went national.
Katz sat in the Democratic caucus and was reelected in November 1994 to a full term and again in 1996. But she gave up her seat in 1998 to run for higher office. She set her eyes on Congress, seeking the sprawling Brooklyn and Queens seat vacated by Chuck Schumer for his successful run for Senate.
In a district that included heavily Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn, such as Brighton Beach, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Mill Basin, as well as the Rockaways, Howard Beach, Woodhaven, Middle Village, Corona and Forest Hills in Queens, Katz was one of four Democrats who faced off for the nomination in the very Democratic district. She was the only candidate from Queens and the only woman. Though her three Brooklyn opponents did split the vote, Katz fell less than 500 votes short of then-Councilman Anthony Weiner, a protégé of Schumer’s. Katz remained on the Liberal Party’s line in November of that year, but only garnered just over five percent of the vote.
After her defeat, Katz went to work for Borough President Clare Shulman in Borough Hall as director of community boards. In addition, she assisted the Borough President in proposing sites for city facilities and creating a strategic plan for the economic development of Queens.
“I took a lot from her administration,” Katz said. “It was my first view of city government and my first view of an executive, and someone who can call all the players to the table, and I took that from her.”
In 2001, Katz sought elected office again, running for the City Council seat vacated by Karen Koslowitz, again based in Forest Hills, but also including Kew Gardens, Rego Park and parts of Elmhurst, Maspeth and Richmond Hill. She won the primary and general election handily and served eight years in City Hall.
In the Council, Katz chaired the powerful Land Use Committee, where she was the council’s point person in many of the Bloomberg-era zoning proposals, including Hudson Yards on the West Side of Manhattan and numerous neighborhood rezoning plans in Queens including Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village, Glendale, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Cambria Heights.
Term limited in 2009, Katz decided to seek citywide office, running for City Comptroller in a four-way Democratic primary that included two other candidates from Queens; her Council colleagues John Liu and David Weprin.
Though she won her own former Assembly district – as well as one in Staten Island – and finished second in Queens, she failed to make the runoff, which was eventually won by Liu.
Katz then went back to private practice, as a lawyer, for several years, but opted to make a second political comeback in 2013, running for Queens Borough President. Facing a crowded Democratic primary that dwindled to three candidates, Katz won a 44 percent plurality and went on to defeat her Republican opponents with 80 percent of toe vote to be elected Queens’ 19th borough president, and third consecutive woman.
As far as her political future, Katz isn’t ruling anything out. Political pundits and historians will be quick to point out the borough presidency has not necessarily been a road to higher officer for others. Of the 90 people who have served at the helm of the five boroughs since 1898, only four: Manhattanites Robert Wagner, David Dinkins, Scott Stringer and Bronx’s Robert Abrams have won election to citywide or statewide office. Nevertheless, at age 50, Katz is still young and has a resume that has led to her name being thrown around for various higher positions, including mayor and governor.
But for now, Katz said she’s content in her current job, where she would be term limited in 2021 providing she runs and wins a second term in 2017.