By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
It has to be tough for Claire.
She has been at the center of the Queens universe (or Queens Unisphere for purists) for
so long, its probably difficult for her to imagine the world from any other
Claires daughter, Astronaut Ellen Baker and my
son, Lee Katzman meet in the late 1980s at the NY Hall of Science.
You see, once you enter that shiny steel structure
and your view is obscured by continents and blurred by rings, the world is never quite the
same. Now no one, especially this writer, is suggesting Claire has anything but
exceptional vision shes been a visionary for this borough, her borough, for a
decade-and-a-half. She has ascended to a unispherical throne, earned through vision and
service and accomplishment and she sits there by herself.
Sure she has visitors: staff, friends, collegues. They come
and go through the portals of Queens mini-world. They stop by, consult, pay homage,
help and even ask a favor or two. But for 15 years, Claire has lived encircled by the
Unisphere rings, by herself.
And its one tough existence.
She has the weight of the Queens world on her shoulders.
That awesome responsibility and the loneliness at the top
(or inside) can make a rewarding job less than rewarding at times. I might add even
in this special issue and this special column of homage to our beep it can also
occasionally cause otherwise near perfect people to occasionally act impervectly.
For those who see that line as a set up for me to tell
negative tales about Claire, sorry. I know none. I do know, that we have inside that
Queens Unisphere, a woman who 15 years ago, had a position thrust upon her in tragedy and
has taken that position and served our borough and has done her very best.
Claire Shulman with Michael, Lillian and Allison Schenkler at
the Tribune Holiday Party this past December.Party this past December.
photo: Dee Richard
And her very best is a lot better than just
about anyone else could do. I say without reservation that Claire Shulman has guided our
borough with love, affection, vision and commitment for her four terms in office. She has
nurtured, built and molded the most diverse county in the world into a multicultural
masterpiece of progress.
She has preserved the old and celebrated our differences
while constructing the new and uniting us all. She has been our architect both
physically and socially.
She has dedicated herself to health and education. She has
worked with the morass of governmental hoohahs. She has subjected herself to the whims of
an authoritarian mayor in order to get a larger piece of the city pie for our borough. She
has fought for what she believes in. She has almost always taken the high road, because
that is where Claire dwells.
Claire came into public service as a nurse and community
board member. For 25 years she worked her way up the public service ladder. Throughout the
entire time, Claire Shulman mastered the ways of community and learned the ways of
government. She never became political. She was loyal; she was hard working; she was
bright; she was skilled. But Claire Shulman, throughout her years in public service, was
not sullied by politics.
When Donald Manes took his life in scandal, Claire quietly
steered the borough through those tragic times. From that moment forth she chose not to be
a political insider. She worked with, but maintained a healthy distance from, the
democratic organization. She maintained her independence but lent her name to appropriate
causes. She was driven by the issues not by the people. She was motivated by what was good
for her borough, not her party.
She never was a political powerhouse. She never wanted to
She was a Queens powerhouse. Thats what she wanted.
And she used that power to build.
Now, like so many others Claire Shulman faces term limits.
We dont expect to see her crying about it.
We dont expect to see her trying to find a way around
the will of the people.
We expect her to accept it and move on. Accepting the will
of the people is where public servents and politicians can be clearly separated.
Claire Shulman has been a public servant for nearly 40
years. As a parent and parent association president, as a community board member,
chairperson and borough coordinator, as deputy borough president and as borough president,
Claire Shulman has been there for the people she serves the people of Queens.
Although this Queens giant faces term limits, I am certain
that it is not the end of her service to the people. Opportunities present themselves
today and many new ones will before her term is up at years end.
More than Claire Shulmans service to Queens, I shall
remember Claire Shulman the person. I must take off my political columnists hat and
put on the smile of a friend. Claire Shulman has been a friend of mine, of this paper, of
the people of Queens.
On a personal level, I have only fond thoughts of our
borough president. In the late 1980s, then Mayor David Dinkins held a reception at the NY
Hall of Science for Astronaut Ellen Baker who had recently returned from outer space.
Ellen had traveled into space carrying among other things
the image of the Queens Tribune placed on CD-rom. She had a special connection to
Queens. Her mother was and is borough president. While Claire stared into the future for
our borough, Ellen was traveling into the future for our country. Well Claires kid
and my kid met that day. Lee who is now 22 was about seven back then. He still has the
autographed photos Ellen had given him back then.
Allison, my 11-year-old, first encountered Claire in the
Queens Zoo. Allison was probably four-years-old when I showed her the proud eagle named
Claire and told her about my friend the borough president. Allsion has met Claire a number
of times since then. But I recall one in particular. Claire came to pay a shiva call when
my father passed away three years ago. Allison came running into the den to tell me Claire
Shulman was in the living room and whispered, "she doesnt look at all like the
No she doesnt, Allison.
But she sure has the vision of one.
Thank you Claire.
Not 4 Publication Reprint:
July 13, 2000
TERM LIMITS: This item is really the background of the next item.
I am not an advocate of term limits. In principle, I oppose them. The people should be
bright enough to exercise term limits at the ballot box whenever appropriate. But big
money, the advantages of incumbency, paid-for mailings, special interest groups and the
lack of real campaign reform has made it near impossible to beat an incumbent.
And so, although this writer opposes term limits in principle, I applaud them in
practice. Strange, huh?
The flurry of new political activity brought about by New York City term limits is
refreshing to watch. A whole new generation of people has a chance to serve on the City
Council. And there will be three new citywide officials and changes with most Borough
And those dirty little rumors that we might see another sneaky little quickie attempt
to do away with term limits engineered by the City Council and Speaker Peter Vallone
continue to reveal the true desperation on the part of people who may have to enter the
real world to earn a living. If the rumors are true and there is another attempt or even a
trial balloon to eliminate City Council term limits, not only will it meet with public
outcry and rejection, it will cost Peter Vallone any possibility of future elective office
The worst thing about changing elected officials is the sorry look on the face of those
who cant accept the fact that the party is over.
CLAIRE SHULMAN: Now, in no way do I mean to suggest that when someone is term
limited out of office, they should be done with public service. There are lots of
opportunities for hard-working, bright public servants.
Borough President of Queens since 1986, Claire Shulman has been above politics, above
special interests and driven by a commitment to her borough Queens and its people. Harder
working than most people a third of her age, she has the intellect, energy and vitality to
continue to serve the people.
Rumors have had her as a public advocate candidate a less than exciting office
with little more than a not-so bully pulpit an inappropriate platform to wrap up a
distinguished career of service.
Other rumors have Claire running for council shed blow away the field in
the 19th district.
However, perhaps Claire is above the level of one of 50 odd (and many are)
Other rumors have her as either deputy mayor or chairperson of the City Planning
Commission under Mayor Alan Hevesi. But theyre just rumors and require Alan to
become mayor and make such an appointment.
We have a better idea.
Queens College is without a president. The crowning jewel of the CUNY system needs
someone who can lead it in this new millennium.
The new president must find the funds to save and build the Salik Aids research center;
continue to maintain and build the educational standards that set Queens apart from all
but the best; develop paths of opportunity for Queens new immigrant population to
receive quality higher education; establish the College as the cultural and educational
catalyst to meet the needs of the ever-changing, ever-challenging population of the
nations most diverse county.
The ability to raise money, maintain independence, negotiate with the public and
private sectors and to give of oneself tirelessly in the interest of quality education are
requisites for the new leader of Queens leading institution of higher learning.
Claire Shulman is not an educator by training; she is one by birth. She has the
qualities, vision and respect to fill the difficult job as President of Queens College.
And although I havent discussed this with her, I know she has the energy and
enthusiasm and Im sure should the opportunity present itself Claire
has the desire.
So I say to [those involved in] the CUNY selection process, the answer to your search
is just five minutes away from the college. Take a ride down to Queens Boulevard; stop in;
talk to Claire. I think youll agree that shes the one.
And, if shes not interested, you can reach me at the Tribune.