By Rich Bockmann
When Borough President Helen Marshall gave her first State of the Borough speech in 2002, Queens was still reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and as she delivered her final address Tuesday the borough was in the midst of recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
In between, Borough Hall has directed its capital funding toward parks and libraries, been in front of the rezoning of much of Queens and worked to promote the borough’s ethnic diversity and culture.
“Thank you all for giving me the honor of helping to shape this great borough,” Marshall said inside the auditorium at Queens College. “You invested your trust in me, and that is a precious responsibility.”
Each borough president is mandated by the City Charter to allocate a capital budget, and during her tenure Marshall has spent more than $616 million, more than half of which has gone to libraries, parks and cultural institutions.
Marshall has directed more dollars to libraries than any other borough president, and in the past decade the Queens system has remodeled more than half of its locations.
“Working with the mayor, the Queens delegation of the City Council and more than $117 million invested from my office, we helped the Queens Library to embark on the largest building expansion and renovation program in its history,” she said.
The library is set to break ground this year on new branches in Far Rockaway, East Elmhurst, Glen Oaks and Hunters Point, as well as an expansion to the Kew Gardens Hills branch in honor of late activist Pat Dolan.
The borough president also plays a role in zoning, and Marshall said that by the time her term is completed Queens will have rezoned half of its neighborhoods. This year she will work to rezone 1,000 blocks in Bellerose, Floral Park, South Ozone Park and East Elmhurst.
One of the de facto roles of the office is to serve as the spokeswoman for the borough, which Marshall has done by championing museums and other cultural institutions to the tune of $107 million.
“She’s done right by investing in the parks and cultural institutions Queens is known for,” said former Councilwoman Melinda Katz, a candidate to succeed Marshall next year. “That goes a long way toward creating jobs and development and creates an atmosphere that draws people to the borough.”
Marshall also received kind words from Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who lauded her dedication to children and diversity.
The borough president enters her last year facing challenges that will surely exceed her administration. Many homes in Queens still sit empty as a result of the foreclosure crisis. During her tenure four hospitals closed throughout the borough and the future of the Rockaway Peninsula is still uncertain.
Marshall dedicated her speech to Belle Harbor resident Dylan Smith, who paddled around on his surfboard to help save seven of his neighbors as Sandy’s surge overtook the peninsula. The 23-year-old died in December in a surfing accident in Puerto Rico.
As Smith’s neighbor Mike McDonnell recalled the heroics of his “guardian angel in a wet suit,” Marshall sat by his side and listened, nodding her head.
“I guess sometimes things have to get hard for us to appreciate what we really have,” she said.
The borough president’s office planned to give $10,000 to the Swim Strong Foundation in honor of Smith.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.