Dozens of current and former Queens elected officials, as well as friends and family, gathered on Thursday for a virtual memorial to former Borough President Claire Shulman.
The first woman to hold the office of Borough President in Queens, Shulman was remembered as a kind of kingmaker — or more correctly a queenmaker — launching the political careers of many high profile women throughout New York politics.
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Bayside, Flushing, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Glendale, Kew Gardens, Maspeth, Middle Village, Rego Park) remembered Shulman as both a kind of mentor and political collaborator who encouraged her, and many other women, to run for public office.
“Claire is someone who believed in me before I even believed in myself,” Meng said. “I will always treasure her advice, from creative legislative ideas, to building leadership skills, and to even reminders to putting on lipstick.”
New York State Attorney Letitia James also spoke about the impact Shulman had on her career, often trying to push her to seek higher office.
“Claire Shulman served as not only the political heartbeat of this great borough, she gave life to so many of its dreams, including my own,” James said. “She reached into the borough of Brooklyn, supported me for citywide office, and was in fact quietly urging me to run for mayor of New York.”
Shulman herself was pushed into becoming borough president in 1986 when she was serving as deputy president. The borough president at the time, her predecessor Donald Manes, was forced to resign after being implicated in a corruption scandal.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica, Laurelton, Rosedale, Cambria Heights, Saint Albans, Springfield Gardens, The Rockaways, JFK Airport) recalled that Shulman ushered in a new era of Queens politics. She successfully rebranded the borough’s corrupt image.
“She took over the borough of Queens when it was in a critically bad situation. It was divided. It was filled with political strife, and people not knowing what direction to go in,” Meeks said. “It took an extraordinary human being to come into a seat that was full of conflict, in a time in politics that was full of corruption to be quite frank with you and calm it down.”
Shulman quickly became known as a fierce advocate for Queens, securing many large development projects like $200 million to rebuild Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica.
A practicing registered nurse, Shulman would go on to be intimately involved in the healthcare infrastructure in Queens, including serving on the board of directors at both New York Presbyterian Hospital – Queens, and at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children.
Though entirely remote and online, the memorial still managed to feel deeply personal, providing an opportunity for Shulman’s family to grieve with the friends and members of the public who knew her best throughout her life.
Several of her living relatives, including her brother and sister, as well as her children and grandchildren, were all given an opportunity to show a side of her few in the public got to see.
Meredith Baker, Shulman’s granddaughter, fought back tears as she remembered the balance Shulman found between family and representing her constituents.
“I love you, grandma,” Baker said. “Queens, the world, and I are better because of your reign.”