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LaGuardia exhibit chronicles life of Marshall

The photographs hanging on either side of the food court at LaGuardia Airport’s Central Terminal offer a window into Borough President Helen Marshall’s daily life, telling the story of Queens through her eyes.

In one picture she dances with a group of Indian women, her hands raised above her head in a gesture of jubilation. An adjacent frame shows her standing among young cadets in the borough’s all-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an event that allows everyone — including gay groups banned from the Manhattan march — to participate.

By themselves, the photographs capture snippets from the busy schedule of the woman affectionately described as the Queen of Queens. But collectively they are like a patchwork quilt, reflecting the diversity of the borough known for its vibrant population of immigrants.

“Irish, gay, Indian — this is Queens,” Marshall said as she first set eyes the collection of photographs last Thursday.

The dozens of pictures are mounted in two public art display cases as part of an exhibit entitled, “Profile of the First Year in Office: Queens’ First African-American Borough President, Helen Marshall.”

The exhibit was unveiled during a ceremony last Thursday as part of the airport’s celebration of Black History Month, where LaGuardia General Manager Warren Kroeppel praised Marshall’s first year in office, which began in January 2002.

“You see it in the pictures before us — she fights for everyone, she’s there for all of us,” Kroeppel said.

His adulation was tinged with irony considering that many of Marshall’s battles had been waged against LaGuardia itself. Before ascending to the borough presidency, Marshall represented the surrounding neighborhood in both City Council and the state Assembly, and she lives only blocks away herself.

“We had to let them know that we’re neighbors and we want to work together,” Marshall said, adding that the airport and local residents are now “good friends.”

The photographs are part of an extensive collection of images snapped by Dominick Totino, who has photographed the borough president since 1997 when he served under Claire Shulman, Marshall’s predecessor. They have been blown up to poster size and mounted in two display cases that sit on opposite balconies overlooking the food court, where the photos are interspersed with Marshall quotes like “Our greatest natural resource is our people” and “Our society will ultimately be judged on how we educate our young.”

Melba Davis, the airport’s patron service coordinator who put together the exhibit, said it was designed to show what the borough has to offer for travelers who typically see Queens as nothing more than their way into Manhattan.

“It’s a whole new education and awareness of the borough and the borough president,” Davis said. “We wanted this exhibit to define her job through pictures.”

Totino, on hand as always to capture Marshall on film, said after the ceremony that he tries to capture his subjects off guard in candid moments.

“I like seeing them as they are, enjoying what they’re doing and doing what they’re doing,” he said.

Marshall sees her position as that of an advocate for the residents of her borough, and she personally assessed her first year in office as a successful one.

“I try to use this office as an effective tool for the people — or else what am I doing?” Marshall said. “It has made a difference in a lot of lives.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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