Readers share their memories of former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman

THE COURIER/Photo by Alina Suriel

Former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman passed away over the weekend, but the impact she left on the face of the borough and its residents remains.

From spearheading projects countless projects — including the creation of the Museum of the Moving Image, a restored Unisphere and the USTA National Tennis Center — Shulman touched several lives and made many friends along the way.

QNS is publishing tributes from those who wish to share their memories of Shulman. Read submitted tributes below and send your own to editorial@qns.com.

Toby Ann Stavisky

“Many of us thought that Claire was indestructible, ageless and enduring. Her legacy will be that and so much more. While she was a trailblazer for women, she fought to make everyone’s life better. We pay tribute not only to her accomplishments and caring, but to her foresight and vision for the future. She was a close friend for many years and we would often attend events together. As we drove throughout Queens she would proudly exclaim, ‘I put the shovel in the ground’ for a building. That often happened. She was so proud of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchild and they returned her love. While I learned a lot from Claire, I am most grateful for her friendship.”

Jaclyn Mucaria

“Claire first joined the board of NewYork-Presbyterian Queens in 2002 and went through several name changes through the years!  She was twice honored as the hospital’s distinguished trustee by the United Hospital Fund. She was instrumental in bringing the cardiac surgery program to our hospital, the first such program in the borough in 1996. Claire was a remarkable, outspoken, forward-thinking person whose life was dedicated to improving the lives of the residents of Queens.  She also paved the way for women leaders not only in Queens, but in the nation. Claire loved this hospital and always reminded us that she was and always will be a nurse. She sat intently at every board meeting and was interested in every aspect of our hospital. Her goal, along with ours was to provide excellent care and keep our Queens residents in Queens and not have them travel to Manhattan for care. She would get so excited when she felt that we could now compete with any other hospital. Her gusto and zeal was infectious.”

Linda DeSabato

“I’m deeply saddened by the passing of Claire Shulman, a respected leader and someone I was lucky enough to call a dear friend. Claire was a rare gift to Queens. Her passion played an important role in all she touched. I’m fortunate to have shared time with her. Her enthusiasm for getting things done and her mantra ‘never say never’ was infectious. She recently encouraged me to ‘hang in there’ because she too shared the same devotion and determination to her work.  It was an honor to know her, she will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family.”

Lois Christie

“Claire was a mentor and role model to many young entrepreneurs and I was lucky enough to  be one. I met Claire when I had just started my business in Bayside. For the next 40 years, Claire always supported my business and helped many women owned businesses become successful. She was smart, fearless and I could always count on her for advice. She will be missed. Rest in peace, Madam President.”

Mark Weprin

“I loved Claire Schulman. She was smart, kind but tough. She got things done. When she was borough president and you were invited to a meeting around that incredibly large boardroom table at Borough Hall, it was never for show. Claire never let a meeting end without having a plan to make whatever was discussed happen. We would all leave with assignments and a date certain to report back. Her list of accomplishments is long. She has left an indelible mark on the people and places of Queens County. She will be missed.” 

Jennifer Walden Weprin

“Claire took our ‘outer borough’ and made it a force for changing lives and changing this city. During her tenure as borough president, she made sure City Hall knew that there was more to NYC than Manhattan. I could listen to her talk for hours and hang on her every word. There was so much to learn from Claire. On my birthday in July, Claire gave me a card with these words: ‘To a lovely young woman who represents a special symbol of the future.’ I will take that as my charge from Claire. She will always be with me.”

Wendy Phaff

“I got such a kick out of my time with Claire. Who didn’t? I don’t know how I got so lucky to fall into her good grace and receive such treatment. She certainly had enough people in her life already, so the fact that she gave me any of her time, was enough. I can’t explain that sadness Jim and I are feeling knowing she won’t be with us — but I have a feeling, she won’t miss it.”

Dorothy Lewandowski

“Claire Shulman was truly a Queens gem. I had the pleasure of meeting Claire in 2004 after she served as Queens borough president. As our friendship developed, it was so easy to see how much she loved this borough, and particularly its parks. She was always available to me for guidance and advice, often with her no-holds-barred opinion, for which I am forever grateful. Although my friend Claire has left this world, I am comforted by knowing her legacy in our great borough lives on.”

Alex Rosa

“I called her ‘Ma.’ Professionally, Claire taught me to stay focused, to never give up and above all work your heart out for Queens. But more than that, Claire was my second mother. For more than 40 years, we celebrated triumphs together and shared our sorrows. She brought me through some of the toughest times of my life with her love and, when needed, her tough love. Claire showed me unwavering friendship, how to meet and overcome personal challenges and that there is a time to work and also a time to play. She meant the world to me.”

Carol Conslato

“I will always cherish Claire’s kindness, guidance and friendship. She will forever be the Queen of Queens. She once told me a story about two gentlemen she sat behind while returning on a flight to JFK. When the plane landed the one man told his friend to immediately take a cab to Manhattan because there was nothing to see in Queens. Claire leaned over the seat and introduced herself. She kept them on the plane for an extra 20 minutes as everyone else exited, telling them the highlights of our great borough. The cleaning staff had to ask her to leave.”

Janet & Heskel Elias

“Claire Shulman was a dear friend for over 35 years. She was full of love, understanding and compassion. She was very proud of her children and grandchildren. She loved to tell stories about their wonderful adventures and accomplishments. Claire was a trailblazer and truly paid attention to the needs of her constituents and embodied the true meaning of public service. Claire has left a lasting imprint on the history of the borough of Queens. Her legacy will live on forever. We will truly miss her.”

Mark Kupferberg

“Everyone remembers Claire as the in-charge, get things done, visionary leader with unlimited energy. What amazed me about Claire was her incredible ability to know when to ask how you were. She sensed when you needed help and she would do things that seemed impossible to help make it better. Claire’s caring and great sense of  humor was truly special and always helped me. That’s why when I think of Claire, I always smile.”

Seth Bornstein

“I was honored to work directly for Claire. She had a knack for hiring talented, smart and energetic people. I was humbled, and in all honesty, sometimes felt unsure and unworthy. Claire was not a micromanager, but her standards were high. One had to be prepared, know the facts, and be willing to work hard. A call from her assistant Ginger that ‘the borough president wants to see you’ meant that you had better be ready to answer any question. Claire knew the power of knowledge, policy and advocacy. She ran meetings with an efficiency that would put the military to shame. You came on time, you were prepared, and you followed through. Her accomplishments fill many files; but importantly are all over our borough. As a new generation seeks to take the reins of public sector positions, I hope they look at Claire’s legacy and learn from her actions. And if they do, they will succeed — and we will all be better for it. That will be her legacy.”

Rabbi Michael S. Miller

“I have known Claire Shulman, of blessed memory, since January 1987 when she and Mel went on a Jewish Community Relations Council of NY (JCRC-NY) Mission to Israel which I led. She stood out on the trip among many other political personalities, as she did throughout her life. Claire was the personification of the ancient dictum of the great sage Hillel, two millennia ago, who stated in Ethics of the Fathers: ‘If I’m not for myself who will be for me? If I’m only for myself what am I? If not now when?’ Claire firmly believed that now was the time for everything and over her tenure in Borough Hall she served her diverse constituency by changing the landscape of Queens. Her legacy continues through her family and all of her abundant and tangible achievements. May her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”

Terry Sun

“Claire was a brilliant mentor, trailblazer and an inspiration to so many, including myself. When it came to work, Claire always meant business and had a no-nonsense attitude. But regardless of what needed to be done, she always cared and gave so much to those around her. Every birthday or milestone was met with a gift and a phone call. I will forever cherish the past years working with her. May her legacy live on with grace.”

John Racanelli

“I first met Claire when I joined the LDC Board in 2009, and was only generally aware of her work and accomplishments as Queens borough president. As I began to work more closely with Claire on LDC Projects, I witnessed first-hand those qualities for which Claire was so highly loved and respected — her dynamic leadership, her ability to energize coalitions of business and community leaders, and public officials, for the advancement of our LDC initiatives and her ease with speaking truth to power. Claire was a marvelous person, and will be missed by all who had the privilege of knowing and working with her.

Theresa Lenz

“Claire was a remarkable woman and a dear friend to me. I am grateful to have worked with her at Queens Theatre in the Park, as she endearingly called it ‘The Playhouse,’ and truly honored to have spent the last nine years working for her at the LDC. The city of New York and the borough of Queens has lost one of its most brilliant and dedicated ‘daughters.’ She made an indelible mark on all of us, one that will forever be cherished.”

Joseph Ficalora

“Claire Shulman was a person who had the highest respect from all. Her commitment and dedication to Queens are evident in her many accomplishments. I would like to express my sincere recognition of her special life. Claire will truly be missed by all.”

Helen Lee

“F & T Group is mourning with Queens the loss of the irreplaceable trailblazer, former Borough President Claire Shulman. She was a fearless, brilliant, genuine, caring and thoughtful leader who was a guiding light to so many people in our community. Her legacy initiatives and projects which will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come, laid the foundation for what makes Queens the No. 1 borough in NYC. Her passion to revitalize downtown Flushing will never be forgotten and we will continue to carry on her vision. Rest in peace, Claire … you will be in our hearts forever.”

Jeffrey Rosenstock

“In 2001 we named the main auditorium at Queens Theatre in the Park in honor of Claire Shulman and I am so proud that the theatre will forever honor her legacy this way. After all, as I often shared with our audiences and stakeholders, ‘This is the house that Claire Shulman built,’ or more directly, ‘No Claire Shulman, no Queens Theatre in the Park.’ And fearless Claire agreed to my idea of playing Ingrid Bergman opposite Peter Vallone Sr.’s Humphrey Bogart in a spoof of ‘Casablanca’ in the first production of ‘The Legislative Revue’ featuring the ‘talents’ of our elected officials and community leaders. Claire agreeing to participate led to 24 other elected officials representing our borough to take center stage. And, Claire and Peter brought down the house. Bravo Claire. I only wish you could return now and take a well-deserved curtain call for all you did for our borough.”

Georgiana Reese-Benatti

“What a dynamo. I respected and loved her as a woman, wife, mother, friend and politician. Claire was also kind and caring. I loved the way she laughed. I will miss her very much.”

Bernard Haber

“As a neighbor and friend, she was caring and always interested in my family’s well-being. Likewise that trait was applied to her staff and all her friends. When my wife died of Parkinson’s almost four years ago, Claire was there to help, attending her funeral and Shiva. I could go on with accolades and stories about this remarkable woman. She was one in a million. She will be greatly missed.”