Boro President Marshall takes reins from Shulman

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The Queens Democratic Party showed up in full force last week to welcome Helen Marshall, the first black elected to a countywide office in Queens, to the borough presidency.

An emotional Marshall, who brings years of experience as a public official to her new post at Borough Hall, was sworn-in by newly elected Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In her first speech as the leader of the borough and its 2.2 million inhabitants, Marshall last Thursday reiterated her plans for Queens, which were the bedrock of her campaign. The 18th borough president touched upon the need to improve education, provide health care and boost economic development.

Marshall honored outgoing Borough President Claire Shulman, whose work she plans to build upon, telling the standing-room-only crowd in the Great Hall at the New York Hall of Science she was following in the footsteps “of one of the most capable leaders” who had loyally served the borough and city.

“Being elected borough president is an affirmation of faith and love for this country,” she said. “Today, in a world full of strife and harsh conditions for so many, Queens County can be a shining example. For we are, indeed, a microcosm of the world.”

Some of the political heavy hitters sitting behind Marshall on the dais were Queens Democratic Party leader Tom Manton, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Forest Hills), U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Astoria), state Comptroller Carl McCall, city Comptroller William Thompson, former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), Rev. Floyd Flake, former city Councilman Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans) and Shulman. A slew of state assemblymen, senators and city council members also attended the event, which drew more than 1,400 people

The borough president’s husband Donald, her son Donald Jr., daughter Agnes Marie and two grandchildren Chandler and Chasen — who recited the Pledge of Allegiance —were on hand for the ceremony.

Marshall ascended to the borough presidency after a long civic and political career. Before serving 10 years as the councilwoman from Council District 21, which stretches from Jackson Heights to Elmhurst and from Corona to Flushing, she represented the district in the state Assembly for nine years. Marshall was an early childhood educator and an active leader in her community in the years prior to stepping onto the political stage,

Shulman had served as borough president since 1986 when she replaced Donald Manes, who committed suicide after being implicated in a parking meter scandal. She was prevented from seeking re-election due to term limits.

Talking about the borough’s assets in her 30-minute speech, Marshall called the diversity of Queens — from the Korean grocer to the Indian restaurateur and from the Russian shoe repairman to the African-American artist— Queens’ most valuable commodity.

Talking about her campaign promises, Marshall said she would keep Shulman’s “war room on school construction” and vowed to fight until every student has a seat, not just a clipboard and a chair. She promised to follow through with establishing a “Task Force on Quality Education,” which would work toward getting parents to take a more active role in their child’s education.

Marshall also highlighted the work she had done in the fight to save the borough’s two public hospitals — Elmhurst and Queens hospitals. Marshall said public health care, which is “for every one, must be expanded” and needs to be improved.

Economic development, Marshall said, is vital for the continued growth and success of many Queens communities. She said economic growth will not only stimulate housing development, it will lead to the revitalization of neighborhoods.

“Our downtown areas need to see more investment,” Marshall said. “Remember it’s not just Wall Street that makes the New York City economy grow. It’s Main Street, Jamaica Avenue, Austin Street and Queens Boulevard.”

State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Jackson Heights), master of ceremonies, thanked Shulman for the inaugural event, which he described as a “passing of the torch and passing of the guard.”

Bloomberg, who gave the oath of office to Marshall, said he would be negligent if he did not thank Shulman for all she had done over the years for the city and its 8 million inhabitants.

“If Helen and I working together can do as much for Queens as Claire Shulman has done working together with Mayors Giuliani, Dinkins and Koch over the last 16 years,” he said, “Queens and all of New York will be well served,”

Bloomberg said Marshall has the intellect and the drive to succeed as borough president.

“The thing that impressed me most about Helen Marshall is has the instincts for this job,” he said. “When you look at Helen, she really does care about people and that is what leadership is all about.”

Shulman said standing in the Hall of Science with Marshall took her back to her first inauguration, which was held in the same spot. She said she had enjoyed her time as borough president and now has to get used to unemployment.

“We have accomplished much in terms of capital projects, and the regrets I have is that we did not build nearly enough schools and affordable housing.” she said. “Fortunately, a talented and caring person will replace me. Helen Marshal is a woman I have always admired.”

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

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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