For Marshall, beep job makes perfect sense

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City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst) had not planned to run for Queens borough president, but when the job became available because of term limits, it was the logical step for the longtime borough politician.

Marshall, who opposed term limits and cannot seek re-election to the City Council, is one of three Democrats and one Republican hoping to replace longtime borough leader and political icon Claire Shulman.

The councilwoman is in the midst of a fierce and hotly contested Democratic primary race, which will be decided Sept. 11. She must defeat former Board of Education President Carol Gresser and Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) for the right to take on the GOP’s choice for the borough’s top job, Alfonso Stabile (R-Ozone Park), on Nov. 6.

Marshall’s 10 years as the councilwoman from Council District 21, which stretches from Jackson Heights to Elmhurst and from Corona to Flushing, was the longest she has stayed in a job. Before the longtime Queens resident joined the Council in 1992 — when the body expanded from 35 members to 51 — she represented the district in the state Assembly for nine years.

“I stay usually in a job for eight or nine years and I have been in the Council for 10 years,” Marshall said. “The exciting thing about the Council was we were building a new government. I would still stay there if I could, but I can’t stay there anyhow. And when this new opportunity opened up, I like to make the best of a bad thing.”

As borough president and the leader of 2.2 million residents, Marshall said her priorities would be education, affordable housing, transportation and economic development.

Marshall, an early childhood educator and chairwoman of the City Council’s education committee, said she has always been a fighter for education and would use the borough president’s power to continue to improve the city educational system.

One of the borough president’s many responsibilities is to appoint one of the seven members of the Board of Education and Marshall said she plans to appoint herself.

“When they came up with the idea of putting yourself there, it would ... bring a lot more prestige to the position and it means that I will be the person to be held responsible for the decisions that are made,” she said. “It is a big job ... but it fits into my plan. I plan a task force on community education and whoever leads that can play a major role.”

She said by being a member of the board she would be able to keep up with the day-to-day issues on the board, which can ultimately have a major effect on the education of the borough’s children.

As Queens continues to experience a population boom, which is an added strain to the educational system, it also puts pressure on an already tight housing market. In order to prevent the borough from pushing out the middle-class like Manhattan, Marshall said, she has some creative ideas on how to develop affordable housing.

“We need to provide an atmosphere where quality residential housing can develop,” she said and cited the success of scattering small houses throughout a neighborhood and 80 percent/20 percent apartment buildings in which 80 percent is offered at market rate while the other 20 is for low-income families — as two examples.

“People often asked me about my priorities and transportation is urgent here,” she said. “We have a disjointed system. They did over the whole Main Street Flushing station, but they did not do anything about a bus station. Right there in the next lot we have the parking lot. Why not put another level on the parking lot and develop a bus terminal on the lower level?”

She said nobody has taken a comprehensive look at the borough’s transportation system and what needs to be done to alleviate overcrowding and the lack of buses. She said dollar vans are not the answer and called for more bus lines provided by the MTA or private bus companies.

Promoting economic development is another of Marshall’s priorities. She said economic growth is a key to the borough’s growth. She said there are numerous opportunities for economic expansion throughout the borough, but it needs to be well-planned and a sound investment.

Marshall plans to work with various industries to attract new businesses and develop the companies that are already in Queens. She said there will be ample planning so that proposals do not get thrown at communities before making sure they are a good fit.

“Things can happen when you talk about a bully pulpit,” Marshall said about the powers of the borough presidency. “Let me tell you when the borough president calls you to the table you come.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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