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Celebrating Helen MarshallHelen Of Queens – QNS.com

Celebrating Helen MarshallHelen Of Queens

She is known now as our Borough President, but Helen Marshall has been serving Queens her entire life. Just ask the person who probably knows her best — her sister, Joan Suter.
“She, I think, always kind of exemplified leadership,” Suter told The Queens Courier. “She was extremely active in high school and asserted herself in many ways. She participated very heavily in high school activities, and I think part of her impetus for becoming a leader is that she was always the big sister for me and always in charge of me and was very comfortable in that role. I think that plays a role in who she is today.”
Marshall was a graduate of the New York City public schools system, and got her bachelor’s degree from — where else? — Queens College, of course.
She was a District Leader in the 1970s and quickly moved up the ranks as an effective communicator who cared about the plight of her constituents. In 1982, she was a natural selection to run for the New York State Assembly.
Reflecting everything in Marshall’s life, her campaign was a family affair.
Suter recalls, “I flew in (from California, where she still lives with her husband) to run her campaign with her husband, Don. Collectively, she was exposed through her various involvements in seeing all the needs of the people in her area. Everyone thought she was perfect for the state assembly. She had a lot of support.”
Marshall won that election and served a total of five terms in Albany.
She knew bigger issues awaited her, though, at City Hall.
In 1991, Marshall received 96 percent of the vote and won the race for the 21st District of the New York City Council.
Being on the Council brought Helen closer to the people in her community and she loved that,” Suter remembers. “I’ll be honest, I thought that was going to be it for her (when term limits eventually forced her out after the 2001 elections) and then she announced to me that she was going to run for Borough President.”
Marshall won that election handily too, as the residents of Queens recognized in her the ability to relate to different people dealing with a myriad of problems across the borough. She was not a candidate who could be content to serve only one district. Helen Marshall was an elected official who needed as wide a constituency as possible. Queens Borough President was a natural progression for her.
“She looked ready for the challenge at her inauguration and, of course, while I was there people were surrounding her every minute of the day,” her sister recalls proudly.
“We were only able to steal away for a cup of coffee for a few moments one day and I said to her, ‘Are you sure you want to do all this?’ and she said, ‘I can’t wait. I can’t wait to do the job and get into office because there are things that I still want to do for my community and I will now have adequate staff and do some things for the borough of Queens.’ I just shut up and didn’t say another word.”
As Marshall looks toward her second term (she will face Republican Phil Sica in the General Election in November) she knows that being unopposed in the Democratic Primary means her party is in complete support of her administration.
Much of what she does has been ingrained in her from a young age. Suter recollected the girls’ father talking politics with his friends in the living room. According to Suter, it was this influence that got both sisters civically active early in their lives.
“It’s in our genes, it’s how we lived our lives — involved with politics and really caring about the community.”
Marshall and her sister lost their parents in their teenage years, and although they’ve been living on different coasts for 40-plus years, they still find it remarkable how similar they are.
“We do a lot of the same things, which is amazing to us because we don’t trade notes,” Suter said. “She’s more into it than me. Helen has fought the good fight in New York and I give her full credit for having that stamina. She’s a mighty warrior.”
So what would the person who knows Marshall the longest tell her constituents that they might not know about her?
She is incredibly creative, For years she made her own evening gowns. She sews and has a really good eye for design. She loves interior decorating and is very astute with design. She also loves to shop ’til she drops. Helen doesn’t like to waste a moment.”
And what about the woman behind the office?
“I think the people of Queens really have a friend in the office of Borough President,” Suter said. “It certainly is something she wants to do and it makes her happy. I don’t see her slowing down anytime soon.”
Queens residents can be thankful for that.
editrich@queenscourier.com

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