By Madina Toure
Elected officials and leaders described state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), who died this week, as a fierce advocate for her community, passionate about education and unwavering in her positions.
Clark, who had been serving the 33rd Assembly District since 1986, died at the age of 76 Monday night, a representative from her district office said. The cause of death was not immediately known.
Her district includes Cambria Heights, St. Albans, Queens Village, Hollis and Bellerose.
She played a key role in converting Andrew Jackson High School into four small magnet high schools and served as a primary sponsor of the 1996 New York City Governance Law, which mandated parental involvement in school policy decision-making.
Clark also supported the plaintiff in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity vs. State of New York lawsuit, which resulted in a $5.5 billion increase in funding for city public schools and authored a bill to establish the age of 6 as the statutory age for full-time attendance in school.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) said Clark had been supporting and mentoring him since his days working as chief of staff for former City Councilman Archie Spigner. She was the first elected official to endorse his Senate campaign run.
She stayed behind at political and civic meetings to ensure everyone had a chance to talk to her and made sure the female point of view was treated respectfully, he said.
“Barbara’s primary legacy is that she was a one-on-one type of person,” Comrie said. “She wanted to engage her constituents personally.”
A coal miner’s daughter, Clark was born and raised in Beckley, W.Va.
She served as deputy majority whip and chairwoman for the Education Committee of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.
Clark was also known for bringing about improvements to the Queens Village and Hollis LIRR stations.
State Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) said Clark was a champion for education reform, also remarking that she embraced charter schools, in the sense that she was not afraid of the concept.
“Our old glorious sister has transitioned,” Sanders said. “Barbara was a fierce fighter for her district and for education, never afraid of being the only one to take a position.”
Queens Village resident Millicent Peterkin, a rank-and-file member of the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East Union, said she was shocked by Clark’s death.
She recalls Clark and other members coming to her office before heading to Albany to lobby for senior citizens and workers.
“I can’t believe Barbara Clark is gone,” Peterkin said. “Oh my god. Just a beautiful person. She advocates for everyone, children and the elderly.”
Leroy Gadsden, president of the NAACP’s Jamaica branch, said Clark advocated for many different issues and causes in the best interest of his community.
“Her service represented a true care and love for her community,” Gadsden said. “But above all the many causes advocated for, she was a relentless advocate for a free, quality public education for everyone, and the rights and needs of our beloved senior citizens.”
Other elected officials throughout the borough also lauded her service.
But her tenure was not without controversy.
In 2000, Clark, then-Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Fresh Meadows) and then state Assemblyman Tony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill), were removed from their leadership positions after they supported Michael Bragman (D-North Syracuse) in his unsuccessful effort to overthrow the powerful speaker, Sheldon Silver.
And she was one of a few Democrats who voted against same-sex marriage in the state.
Clark is survived by her husband, Thomas Clark, Jr.; four adult children: Jan, Crystal, Thomas III, and Brian; and two granddaughters, Taylor and Lauren.
Visitation and funeral services will be held Monday at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York at 110-31 Merrick Blvd. in Jamaica. Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the funeral service will start at 11 a.m.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour