Family, friends and former staffers of Claire Shulman, the late former Queens borough president, gathered alongside elected officials and community representatives outside Queens Borough Hall on April 26 for the unveiling of “One Claire Shulman Way” as its vanity address.
Shulman, the first female Queens borough president, served the “World’s Borough” for 16 years from 1986 to 2002. She became deputy president in 1980 and interim borough president in 1986 after Borough President Donald Manes resigned. Despite all doomsday prophecies from the political elite, she went on to win four re-elections before vacating the seat due to term limits.
Shulman died on Aug. 16, 2020, at the age of 94, leaving behind her daughter Ellen Baker (an astronaut), her son Larry Shulman (an oncologist) and grandchildren.
Family, friends and elected officials alike called Shulman, who was born in Brooklyn, a trailblazer who was tough, but fair, willing to give those who worked hard a fighting chance.
Queens Borough President Donavan Richards described how the political establishment underestimated her when she took over the borough president’s office.
“Boy, did she prove them wrong. Every step of the way,” Richards said before listing some of her many accomplishments during her tenure as borough president.
Richards spoke about how Shulman led the charge in the rezoning of dozens of neighborhoods to create appropriate zoning restrictions, generating reasonable and responsible development while preserving the character of many existing neighborhoods. She was behind the economic revitalization of many communities, as well as the expansion and improvement of the borough’s infrastructure. She also increased funding for senior citizens, cultural programs and libraries during her tenure.
Richards also described how his predecessor was a powerful advocate for Queens, fighting fiercely but fairly for the borough’s residents, never taking no for an answer.
Richards shared that she became his unofficial campaign manager last year, sometimes texting him at 6 a.m. about issues related to the budget.
“I miss her friendship. I miss her counsel. I’m reminded of carrying on her legacy when I sit in that seat every day. And I get emotional. Last week, I was going through text messages from her again. Just reminiscing on all of those great conversations we had about the future of this borough. And we’re going to continue to carry out that legacy in her honor,” Richards said. “Miss you, Claire. Miss you, dear. Love you. I would not be here without you.”
Shulman’s son Larry spoke during the ceremony and recalled that his mother was loving and expected a lot from her kids. He also shared that one of the few regrets he had was teaching a 90-year-old how to text message, noting how she frequently would send messages, often at odd hours.
Dr. Shulman also spoke of the former borough president’s dedication to Queens and how much she cared about the people who live in the borough.
“She cared deeply about the borough. But not the borough in an abstract way. She cared about the people who lived in the borough. That’s really what mattered,” he said before expressing that honoring his mother’s legacy with the unveiling of the vanity address means a lot to her family.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, a former borough president, worked for Shulman and described her as a loving, but tough leader. Katz recalled how Shulman gave her a chance when so many others wouldn’t after Katz lost her race for Congress.
“It takes a very strong, confident elected official to hire another elected official to step up into their office. And it shows her confidence. It shows the strength of her nature. It shows that she was a force of nature. It showed that she had faith in the job that I was going to do, which I was forever grateful for, and she knew that I’d be loyal to the office, I’d be loyal to her, and most importantly to her, I’d be loyal to Queens County. And I am so proud of the years I spent with her,” Katz said.
Former Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee described Claire Shulman as legendary and remembered that Shulman did not waste a single moment, living life to the fullest, moving hearts and mountains.
“When you look across this borough from west to east, north and south, there is so much that you see is a direct result, a direct product of her vision and her work,” Lee said. “No one loved Queens more than Claire Shulman.”
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz worked on various projects with Shulman for many years and said that she sees Claire’s influence when she goes around Queens.
“When I was term-limited the first time, I became very friendly with Claire personally, where we will go out to dinner, and sit and talk. All she ever talked about was Queens, how she loved Queens. You could sit and listen to her all day long, telling stories about Queens. I miss Claire Shulman. Claire, rest in peace. I’m very happy this building is being named [after] Claire Shulman, and it’s in my district,” Koslowitz said.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik called Claire Shulman a mentor and surrogate mother and said she helped bring Queens into the modern era.
“There are two Queens. There is B.C. Queens and A.C. Queens. There is Before Claire Queens, and there is After Claire Queens. And that is really the mark that she made,” Grodenchik said. “Everywhere you go in this borough, there is not a neighborhood that she did not touch. There is not a neighborhood that did not benefit from her wisdom, and her hard work, and her dedication to the then 2 million people of the borough of Queens.”
Shulman’s former Chief of Staff Alex Rosa thanked Richards for the extraordinary way he commemorated Shulman and remembered how much everyone loved her.
“As Sharon said, she touched our hearts. And I have seen her move those mountains as she said, to make things better for everybody in Queens, whether you were a senior or schoolchild, and everyone in between. She found a way to make things work in every neighborhood to improve our lives,” Rosa said. “I was lucky enough to evolve from a staff member to somebody who actually called her mom. I miss her dearly, and I’ll look at this address always, as a reminder of the time that we had together. God bless you, Claire.”