Beep candidates unveil plans for Queens

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The declared...

By Adam Kramer

As Claire Shulman bids adieu to the borough presidency — a job she has held for the last 15 years and is being forced out of because of term limits — eight well-known Queens residents are contenders for the borough’s top political office .

The declared candidates hoping to succeed the borough’s most recognized face are City Council members Mike Abel (R-Bayside), Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst), Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), and Al Stabile (R-Ozone Park); state Assembly members Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway) and Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill); and former Board of Education President Carol Gresser.

For each of these candidates one of the first orders of business would be to protect Queens’ interests and priorities as the 14 new members of the borough’s city council delegation get their feet wet in city government. Secondly, the newly elected borough leader will have to mold the job around his or her own image, similar to how Shulman has shaped the borough presidency over the past 15 years.

“I think a lot depends on whoever gets elected,” Shulman said in a recent telephone interview. “I wouldn’t expect them to know what I know. They need to have the capacity to grow into the job and have a speaking knowledge of how it works — during a transition period especially.”

On March 12, 1986, Shulman assumed the post of acting borough president after then-Borough President Donald Manes killed himself in the midst of a Parking Violations Bureau corruption scandal. She was elected to the post by a unanimous vote of the Queens city council delegation. Later that year Queens voters elected her to a three-year term, which was followed by a second term in 1989, a third in 1993 and her fourth and final term in 1998.

Shulman said the next borough president will have to fight and be able to protect the interests and needs of the borough while new council members get up to speed. Queens is the only borough that will lose its entire council delegation in November unless the city’s term limits law is reversed.

“What I’m afraid of is the newer people in Manhattan will run away with the resources,” she said. “It’s always good for government to have new blood — it’s exciting, it’s energetic. Change is not all bad.”

Reflecting on her political future, Shulman said, “I’m hoping there will be a place for me in city government and if there is, I’ll probably do it.”

The office of the borough president was started in 1898 to allow the five boroughs to maintain their pride and individuality after the five areas combined to form New York City.

In the 1901 city charter revision each borough president became part of the city’s Board of Estimate, an integral part in the city’s development.

In subsequent charter revisions, the borough presidents continued to lose power on the Board of Estimate until it was declared unconstitutional in 1990 because it promoted unequal representation.

The Board of Estimate set the city’s budget and was made up of the mayor, speaker of the City Council, the comptroller and the five borough presidents. The Encyclopedia of New York City said it was known to be dominated by the comptroller and the borough presidents, who tended to reflect the Democratic machines of the city.

When questioned about their candidacy, several candidates outlined their plans to lead the borough through uncharted territory over the next four years.

“I would request a meeting with the Council delegation and ask that they organize themselves and not get sidelined by arguments,” Abel said. “If the entire Council is not ready, then the Queens delegation has to be.”

He said the borough president’s office is part of the New York City government and its job is to fight for Queens. He said if elected, he would meet with Shulman to take up where she left off and probably keep a lot of her staff.

“In terms of substance, I plan to use more strategic planning and to be forward looking similar to the way business, corporations and universities plan goals and priorities,” Leffler said. “I plan to use the office in a substantial way to address the needs of Queens residents fighting for their concerns.”

Leffler said his 24 years in the City Council had given him the experience and know-how to fight for the rights of the borough’s residents.

Marshall said even though the borough will be stripped of its entire council delegation, there are a number of outstanding candidates running for the 14 Queens council seats. She said she knows many of them and thinks she can work with them.

“I’ve been representing a large portion of Queens for the last 19 years. I clearly have an idea of the needs, issues and concerns of Queens County,” she said. “Queens is a borough ripe for development, but we have to ensure that our way of life is not destroyed by development.”

Pheffer said her knowledge of the Queens political system — including 14 years in the state Legislature and her experience working with the budget — would enable her to act as a leader for Queens even with the new City Council.

She said her vision for the borough was to find a place for every student in a classroom, allowing them to reach their full potential. She said the borough has to figure out ways to find affordable housing for immigrants who are pouring into Queens.

Gresser said she still sees great power in the office. The borough president still appoints the Queens delegate to the Board of Education and members of the 14 community boards.

“The next borough president should be responsive to people who live here and make people aware of what we have here,” she said. “We need to develop Queens, develop the Rockaways. I’m excited about the prospect of that.”

Koslowitz, Seminero, Stabile did not respond to questions about their candidacy before press time.

<i>— Times-Ledger staff contributed to this story</i>

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

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