By Dustin Brown
A collective sigh of relief reverberated faintly through the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza LaGuardia last Thursday when Borough President Helen Marshall gave up on having her 200 guests stand one at a time and introduce themselves to the crowd.
Only two tables had gotten a chance to mutter their names into a wireless microphone before Marshall cut short the ambitious getting-to-know-you game, an exercise that hearkened back to her teaching days yet found few enthusiasts in a crowd of overbooked adults.
Still, the idea that a room full of the borough’s boldface names should get acquainted reflected the grander vision Marshall soon presented of bringing together a borough renowned for its diversity.
“We are all in this together,” Marshall said after extolling the borough’s multi-ethnic population.
Marshall was the featured speaker at a combined meeting of the Queens Borough Cabinet and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, an annual affair for which a couple of hundred business and civic leaders paid $42 to eat eggs and sausage, hear Marshall speak and rub elbows with one another.
Hitting on a war metaphor rendered soberly appropriate by Sept. 11, Marshall referred to those in the audience as “soldiers in this great struggle,” then designated the community board district managers flanking her at the dais as “the little generals.”
Marshall brought with her a clear sense of history, paying tribute to the legacy of her predecessor, Claire Shulman, who held the post for 15 years but was barred by term limits from running for re-election last year.
“Claire has laid a wonderful foundation on which I’m building and expanding,” Marshall said to a burst of spontaneous applause. “I don’t want things to change. I’m going to improve on them and expand them.”
To that end she cataloged the borough’s most significant development projects, from the towers of Queens West rising on the Hunter’s Point waterfront to the construction of a new commercial center in Jamaica — all projects that began under Shulman’s watch.
“We’re making sure every part of the borough gets the attention it needs,” Marshall said, highlighting the need to pay as much attention to the Rockaways as to the central business district planned for Long Island City.
Among her plans is the creation of a Queens General Assembly, which she envisions would “consist of every nationality we have in the borough” and meet once a month, “making sure we have everybody enjoying one another’s company.”
Marshall sees the “spirit of cooperation” extending even to park maintenance, which she hopes to augment by getting teenagers who play on the grounds to also help clean them.
But the hallmark of her vision is education, which the former teacher made very clear in a parting anecdote. When she asked a prominent broadcast journalist how he got his start, he pointed back to Marshall and reminded her of the day she told him to attend a New York Times workshop at Corona’s Langston Hughes Library.
For Marshall, the moral was clear. “It starts here,” she said.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.