Marshall, Koslowitz impart wisdom to candidates

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At a meeting of the Queens...

By Jennifer Warren

Veteran council women Helen Marshall (D-Corona) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), both running for borough president, revealed behind-the-scenes secrets of their jobs to a new generation of political aspirants this week.

At a meeting of the Queens chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus at Borough Hall Monday, Marshall told the dozen or so women in attendance that women’s roles as elected officials had been long overdue.

“Many of us should run for office. We were the ones that licked the stamps and kept the clubs open,” she said, referring to the long history of political clubs so dominant in Queens.

Among the evening’s attendees were Ethel Chen, who is running for the 20th council seat in Flushing; Jeannette Evans, who is seeking Koslowitz’s 29th council seat in Forest Hills; Chris Jorge, who is running for Alfonso Stabile’s (R-Howard Beach) 32nd District seat; Carol Howell, who is seeking Juanita Watkins’ (D-Far Rockaway) 31st district seat; and Cynthia Jenkins, who is running for the 27th district seat currently held by Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans).

Marshall drew on her experience in the state Assembly and highlighted the differences between her Albany legislative role and her tenure at City Hall.

In the Assembly, members were better versed on bills brought before them, Marshall said.

“You got abbreviated descriptions of legislation. When you opened up your calendar you knew who was for it. You knew who was against it. And you had all points,” she said.

There was also a “study group” which members of the Assembly could enrol in for $1,500 a year to attend seminars on specific points of legislation and to hear analysis.

No such preparations are available for council members at City Hall, Marshall said. Nevertheless, she praised the city post.

“When we have committee meetings, they’re really public hearings,” she said, noting that anyone could walk into the proceedings and listen to the machinations of the Council. She pointed out that to get to the chamber room, council members had to pass through the press office and hearings are broadcast live on Channel 74.

“We live in a glass house,” she said.

The two borough president candidates also defended the efforts to repeal term limits in the City Council. Marshall said the loss of the “institutional memory” on the Council would be detrimental. She is among the 20 city council members pushing for repeal of the limits.

“Like they say, it’s not the man, it’s the plan,” Marshall said.

Koslowitz, while not fully committing to a repeal of term limits, argued for it by evoking her early days in office. When she came into office in April 1991, she had only one month to prepare for the new task of creating an annual budget.

“But what I did have was colleagues with experience,” she said, citing Julia Harrison (D-Flushing), Morton Povman (D-Forest Hills), Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside) and Archie Spigner.

Koslowitz said she relished her work in the City Council even though the hours stretch until 10 p.m. at night when she usually returns home and extend through the weekend.

“If that’s a part-time job, then I don’t know what a full-time job is,” Koslowitz said.

She said she always thought of politics as an unstable job and as a recently divorced mother with two young children to support back in the late ‘70s, she stayed in the private sector. But once her children had graduated from college, she was free to pursue a growing interest in politics.

She first tested the waters by working on Gary Ackerman’s 1982 campaign for congress. Later she would become the Queens liaison for City Council President Andrew Stein.

“It was inbetween,” she said, “that I really started loving politics.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Updated 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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