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Shulman took charge after scandal shook borough

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Claire Shulman’s 1986 appointment as Queens borough president was anything but a triumph.

Although she was the first woman to run Borough Hall, capping an already long public service career, Shulman took office with drama and scandal nipping at her heels.

The drama was courtesy of her predecessor, Donald Manes, who was embroiled in a Parking Bureau violations scandal and committed suicide on his second attempt.

Manes, who served as Queens borough president from 1971 until his death, had also been head of the Queens Democratic Party and was heavily involved in borough politics before the parking violations investigation became public.

“It was tough,” said Shulman of her March 12, 1986 appointment to the Queens borough presidency. “I tried to keep the borough moving, but there were investigations going on everywhere — it was very painful.”

As Manes’ deputy borough president and second in command, Shulman found herself under intense scrutiny as government authorities attempted to sort out the scandal.

“Half the people thought I knew and the other half thought I didn’t know,” she recalled. “I was sitting there in the middle of this tempest. I started to lose my hair because I was so nervous.”

Shulman, who has maintained she knew nothing of Manes’ illegal activities, said she first became aware of a problem in the administration in February 1986.

“It was after the first of the year because Donald was sworn in and already didn’t look well,” she said. “I think I got to be borough president because everybody else was afraid to be borough president.”

In fact, Shulman was chosen for the borough presidency in a unanimous city council decision and with the help of then-City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria).

“He believed in me,” she said of Vallone. “They had confidence in me and they picked me.”

Nine months later and with the support of the Queens Democratic Party, Shulman got on the ballot and ran her first campaign for elected office.

“I ran because I liked what I was doing,” she said. “And if I left, people would think I was guilty of something, so I thought I’d better run!”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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