Bayside historical group thanks Shulman with tea

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Clad in vintage hats, members of the Bayside Historical Society and their guests thanked former Borough President Claire Shulman for her support over the years at the society’s Saturday afternoon tea.

“She has been the best and longest running first lady of Queens,” said Geraldine Spinella, the executive director of the society, in the group’s Fort Totten home. “We felt she is an appropriate person to honor at a ladies tea.”

The fund-raiser was modeled on an old-fashioned tea party.

Members and guests sipped tea, munched on finger sandwiches and some brought in their own cups and kettles. Monica Randall, who runs a museum of vintage hats from her home in Oyster Bay, gave a talk on the hats before members of the society took turns showing off their headwear.

In her speech, Shulman spoke of her office’s work to bring Fort Totten under the control of the city Fire Department and Parks Department, a process which is still ongoing.

“I had a really good run as borough president,” she said with a smile. “I had 16 good years.”

Shulman then took a more somber tone, warning of what she described as a growing call to eliminate the office of the borough president. She said “Manhattan elitists” were trying to present the case that borough presidents are not important, even though most capital projects in Queens are funded through the office.

“I think it’s a danger,” she said. “I think the movement is becoming a little more active.... I know what the future is. And it is not for this borough. It is mostly for Manhattan.”

Shulman said Mayor Michael Bloomberg was doing a good job but observed that she felt sorry for him “because he has no money.”

When asked about her comments after her speech, Shulman did not identify the “Manhattan elitists,” but said she was bothered by recent editorials in the Daily News questioning the need for borough presidents. Virginia Dent, the society’s president, credited Shulman with leading the fight to preserve Udalls Cove and bring Fort Totten under the control of the city.

“The war for Udalls Cove, the war for Fort Totten, would never had happened if we did not have a sympathetic ear in Borough Hall,” Dent said.

The tea was not the first time the historical society gathered to thank an elected official. In December, the group expressed its gratitude to state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) with a concert and gala. Padavan has secured more than $1 million over the years toward the restoration of the society’s Fort Totten home.

The event was designed as a fund-raiser for the society’s educational programs.

For six years, the society has toured local schools with a collection of photographs, vintage clothing and utensils from the turn of the 20th century in a traveling exhibit known as “Grandmother’s Trunk.” The group also shows students artifacts from the Bell family, the merchants for whom Bell Boulevard was named.

“The purpose of this program is to naturally educate the children about the community they live in and instill in them a love for the past,” said Denise Johnson, the group’s vice president for education.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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