All who enter the doors of Queens Borough Hall will be reminded of the late borough president Claire Shulman, the first woman in this role, who served her constituents proudly from 1986 until 2002. Shulman passed away last August. On Monday, April 26, Donovan Richards, who now operates as our borough president in the same corner office Shulman once used, held a ceremonial address renaming the entranceway “One Claire Shulman Way” in a fitting tribute to permanently and prominently remember her nearly 16 years of service in its hallways.
Over 20 community figureheads and the nearest and dearest of Shulman’s joined the unveiling, showcasing the diversity and love of those who knew her. Guests included her children (astronaut Dr. Ellen Baker and oncologist Dr. Larry Shulman) and grandchildren David Shulman and Karen Baker, along with members of her administration.
She was remembered as a distinguished and effective leader who began her professional career as a nurse and continued on to become a deputy borough president, taking over with style and grace from her predecessor in trying times and eventually being elected to complete that term and a subsequent three full terms. “Claire Shulman was a larger-than-life figure who consistently defied expectations with her uncanny ability to get things done for the people of Queens,” Richards said, adding that she “never took no for an answer.”
Initially, many believed she would be unable to fulfill her job requirements, but she proved her naysayers wrong until her dying day, paving the way for future female Queens Borough Presidents to follow in her stead: Helen Marshall, Melinda Katz, and Sharon Lee.
During her reign, Shulman championed land use, development of the city’s expense and capital budget, economic development in downtown Jamaica and Western Queens, library, and senior programs, as well as advances in healthcare.
Shulman responsibly rezoned areas “while protecting the character of these neighborhoods,” said Richards. Richards called Shulman “a true people’s person” and quoted a New York Times editorial board that noted how Shulman “knew how to negotiate fiercely but fairly.”
Richards could not pinpoint why Shulman took a leap of faith on his candidacy when crediting her as his unofficial campaign manager for borough president. He talked about how she defied the odds of a 94-year-old woman mastering sending text messages that she effectively used to advise him on budget matters and to always strive for the economic growth of Queens while attaining equality for its residents.
Dr. Larry Shulman said that his mother cared about the people of Queens in a deep way and always strived to accommodate and make their lives better. “Long after her years as borough president, she did not give up on her task of making Queens a better place. She taught all of us the meaning of ethics and having a mission in life; that was really critical to her.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz recalled Shulman as a loving leader who was tough. “She gave me a chance that many people wouldn’t. It takes a very strong, confident elected official to hire another elected official to step up into her office.” Katz noted how these efforts pointed to Shulman’s confidence, strength, and force of her nature. “Claire had faith in the job that I was going to do, faith in office and of my loyalty to her and Queens County,” said Katz. “Everyone’s opinions matter,” continued Katz, who reminisced of a call congratulating her on a good job when she was in her borough president term. “I felt like the world was moving underneath me.”
Former Acting Borough President Sharon Lee noted, “Few have led a life as devoted and as effective as Claire Shulman; she was pretty legendary. She did not waste time and lived every single minute fully and deliberately.” In explaining how Shulman moved hearts, Lee pointed out, “So much that you see is a direct result, and a direct product of her work. She shepherded Queens for decades into the 21st century with grace and humility and with unrivaled determination to make the borough a greater, stronger borough for the families of Queens.”
City Council Member Karen Koslowitz recalled her close friendship with Shulman. “Claire and I worked together for many years.” Koslowitz pointed to their successes, adding, “When I go around Queens, I see Claire Shulman, because she is in every part of Queens; she loved Queens.”
City Council Member Barry Grodenchik called Shulman his mentor, remarking, “Claire supported politicians who were the type to ‘put the shovel in the ground.’ She brought Queens into the modern era – this was the mark she made.” In explaining her devotion, Grodenchik said, “She had boundless energy and used it not for her own purposes, but for the people whom she represented.” Grodenchik also said that there is not a neighborhood in the 14 community boards that did not benefit from her wisdom, hard work, and dedication.
Shulman’s longtime Chief of Staff Alex Rosa said, “Claire made things better for seniors, a schoolchild, and everyone in between.”
A joyous countdown then led to the reveal of the vanity address. Mrs. Shulman passed away on August 16, 2020, at the age of 94. She leaves a borough with broad cultural institutions and beautiful infrastructure as her legacy.
By Shabsie Saphirstein