Pat Dolan’s legacy immortalized on street sign

Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

Even in death, Queens civic activist Pat Dolan seemed to exercise her influence over the group of elected officials gathered at her street renaming ceremony in Kew Gardens Hills Friday.

Nearly a year ago, Dolan was killed by a car while crossing Union Turnpike, ironically while she was on her way to a transportation meeting. Her name now adorns a street sign outside the Kew Gardens Hills branch of the Queens Public Library.

Dolan was president of the Queens Civic Congress, a coalition of more than 100 borough civic organizations; founder of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy; and a member of Community Board 8, although she held many more titles.

But she is remembered most for her tenacity and renowned for squeezing results from lawmakers.

“I remain as afraid of her now as I ever was before, and that is a credit to her as the great, dynamic community organizer she was and is,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), speaking with a large group of other politicians at the ceremony.

Dolan was a longtime borough firebrand hailing from Kew Gardens Hills who fought for better zoning, parks and libraries and did so with her characteristic blunt speech and caustic wit.

Many lawmakers at the ceremony attributed Dolan’s efficacy to her forceful negotiating skills, but the true root of Dolan’s influence on Queens went much deeper.

The civic leader preferred to work outside the bounds of politics, never having run for public office, but that arguably made her more powerful.

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), whose district is near to Dolan’s home turf, first met her in the late 1980s at a hearing on the revision of the City Charter, a document which basically serves as a blueprint for how the city runs.

Lancman, then just a college student interested in city government, was approached by Dolan and taken under her wing. The late civic leader helped forge his views on public service, along with many others now active in the community.

Dolan quite literally dedicated her life to Queens politics — she founded the park conservancy and the precursor to the Queens Civic Congress decades ago — and was active in civic affairs for far longer. In doing so she influenced a wave of legislators and activists who would later shape the discourse and policies that ended up governing the borough and city.

“Probably nothing compares to the effect she has had by mentoring a generation of community leaders, civic leaders, elected officials and others, so that her thoughts, her views and her commitment have now multiplied exponentially beyond which any normal individual person could do on their own,” Lancman said at the ceremony.

The notion of 15 politicians speaking in succession for more than 45 minutes would have amused Dolan, as her closest and longtime friend Norma Stegmaier said, since the civic leader preferred action to words. But the elected officials and heads of community boards from Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn — and the bills, resolutions and statements they have put into ink — are likely more of a testament to her legacy than the sign now posted on Vleigh Place.

But in an unforeseen twist of events, Dolan also left a lasting legacy for the library at Kew Gardens Hills, aside from the bust of her located inside. According to the head of the Queens Public Library, the facility’s address will now have to change to reflect the street on which it is located: Pat Dolan Way.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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