An outspoken trailblazer in Queens politics and long-time civic leader in Sunnyside who died in 2017 had her own street placard emblazoned in her honor on Saturday.
Gertrude McDonald, who died after turning 100, is still remembered in Sunnyside for pushing the boundaries, from a 1968 Assembly run as a trailblazing woman to community meetings where she was known to take strong stances about the issued in her neighborhood.
McDonald, in later years, would come to be well-known as figure at Sunnyside Community Services, an organization serving not only seniors but range of residents in the area.
Queens Boulevard and 38th Street is now co-named “Gertrude McDonald Way” through city legislation recently passed by the City Council and sponsored by local Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
“Although unsuccessful, Gert’s jump into the political ring in Queens County was absolutely monumental. Gert paved the way for other women to seek and be elected to public office and she shattered barriers in local politics,” said Eileen Auld, McDonald’s daughter. “I think we can all agree Gert McDonald showed up, was useful to other people, voted, volunteered, served, listened, learned, was part of constant reform and led dissent when necessary. Gert did the heavy lifting. She was always a good citizen and a patriot.”
State Senator Michael Gianaris spent time in the Assembly in a district set apart from Sunnyside. But he said that when he was elected to his current office, McDonald played a part in familiarizing him with the community.
“[Gert] would never hesitate to grab me and tell me what she thought I was doing right, and more importantly what she thought I was doing wrong,” Gianaris said. “That was the role Gert played in my life: a mentor for this neighborhood. But now that I’ve had the privilege of representing it for almost a decade, I think I know it well enough. But I could’t have gotten there and represented Sunnyside as well as I have without the mentorship of someone like Gert.”
Van Bramer, whose district office is in Sunnyside, looked back fondly on his years advocating for change in the community alongside McDonald.
“Gert McDonald was a dedicated civic leader and pioneer for women in Queens politics. She loved our Sunnyside community and worked tirelessly to improve quality of life here. I have so many fond memories of advocating, laughing, and serving with Gert, and I am proud to honor her legacy with this street co-naming,” Van Bramer said.
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan commented that McDonald was not impressed by high-ranking titles or big names; her first question to any big whig visiting the neighborhood, Nolan recalled, was always, “What are they going to do for Sunnyside?”