Energy, Pride And A Bit Of History
was better than I expected a lot better. Its not that my expectation was low;
Helen was simply relaxed, knowledgeable, dynamic, forceful and quick.
Marshall & Michael Schenkler
photo: Dee Richard
thought, before the interview, that it was unlikely Helen Marshall could chat with me for
almost two hours on my turf and overcome our differences.
dont get me wrong, I like Helen a lot. Ive felt a strange kinship with
the woman I met some forty years ago. Sometime, in the early sixties Ill have
to check my ancient history my father became principal of P.S. 143 in Corona. Helen
became the PTA president. Dad involved the family in the school and I was there on many
occasions sharing them with the kids, staff, dad and Helen. She and I reminisced briefly
about being at the ribbon cutting of the first Langston Hughes Library together.
of that in the past, I watched as Helen toiled in the civic and political field and when
the 1980 redistricting opened up a new Assembly seat, Helen won it and I was delighted.
And a decade later, charter revision expanded the new City Council and I was happy when
Helen joined that body.
recently, two referendums and term limits later, I found myself disappointed with the
Council and Helen. The Council, which had never distinguished itself in my eyes, had
reached a new low. The self-serving members who were trying to void the will of the people
and overturn term limits were involved in as reprehensible an act disguised as good
public policy as this writer has ever witnessed. And sadly, Helen Marshall was one
of the leaders.
a half an hour of chatting and agreeing about much in our borough, I said to her,
Helen, I have two words for you . . . term limits.
explained, I did not take it [overturning the law passed by referendum] lightly.
Term limits was not a carefully thought-out act. [Its creator and funder Ron] Lauder was angry after losing to [Giuliani] and
used his money to change government.
goodness fourteen members will still stay on, Helen commented on the effects of term
limits. And then hammered home, It wasnt the will of the people; it is
Helen, the people voted for it twice, I thought out loud.
will disagree with God if I think Im right, she said with a smile.
I can understand Helen taking on religion, but violating the will of the people? Hmmm!
prides herself on the quality constituent service she provides her district and would
bring a cracker jack team to Borough Hall to serve the entire borough.
quality education while addressing overcrowding; providing affordable housing without
destroying the ambiance of the neighborhoods; and addressing the transportation needs of
Queens, led her list of priorities.
was surprised that Helen resented the intrusion by Bryan Pu-Folkes and his coalition of 24
immigrant groups who have offered a plan to improve government access.
do it already, she insisted.
principle [what they want] is admirable, but I dont know where they get there
information from and he [Pu-Folkes] knows nothing of our community, she said.
I take pride in my ability to bring people together, she added.
spoke with concern, knowledge and pride about higher education, the Council Committee
which she presently chairs. Helen, a strong supporter of public higher education, favors a
recent modification allowing limited remediation (as opposed to none) for students at
CUNYs four-year colleges. A product of Queens College, Helen will be there for CUNY.
the Mayor: Rudy has reduced crime, but others also deserve credit. While hes
improved the City, hes mean.
is an organization Democrat, reluctant to criticize her colleagues. In reference to abuses
of public resources for campaign purposes she said, I dont believe its
right. But, its been going on all along. When asked specifically
about Council Speaker Vallones use of City funds for his mayoral run, she said,
If I disagree [with what he is doing], I will tell him privately.
praising the performance of Claire Shulman, who has endorsed her, Helen did, however,
criticize the Beeps actions of following the Mayor on major Board of Education
conflicts and abandoning the Queens Board members she had appointed.
said of Shulmans relationship with Giuliani, Claire has lived with an outside
force that dominated her life as Borough President.
Bd. of Ed. Member Terri Thomson did the right thing, in disagreeing with
Shulman and opposing the Mayors choice for Board President, said Helen.
Marshall applauded the independence shown by former Board of Ed. Prez Carol Gresser, one
of her opponents for Borough President, in standing up to Guiliani over the choice of
reminisced about when Malcolm X moved to Corona. I saw his development, she
said. He didnt understand how I
Sharpton, she thought, has come a long way, but she did not support him when he ran for
Senate. Gerry [Ferraro] was a better candidate.
did Helen think of possibly making history and becoming the first African American Queens
Borough President? While her eyes conveyed her pride, she insisted, Race is a
divisive factor. I am not a black candidate.
represents all the people equally and her anger shows, should you suggest anything else.
She is proud, she is focused, and she cares.
felt our discussion was pretty probing and comprehensive. Helen apparently wasnt
satisfied and called me from her cell phone on the way to her next stop.
she said, we didnt have the time for me to tell you about my vision for
replied, Helen, yes we did. And you did it very well.
'One Of The Good Guys'
Freed just left my office. Shes a puzzlement.
another quality candidate in a quality field of Public Advocate wannabes who relies on her
liberal roots to proclaim her independence, but believes change comes most effectively
from within the system.
get me wrong . . . she is concerned, capable and hard working. She understands the process
and the City, while taking pride that her roots are as a community activist.
may not be as far inside the system as many Council members, but she sure
aint as far outside the system as some of her opponents.
Tuesday was my first meeting with the Councilwoman from Chinatown, the Lower East Side,
SoHo and the bottom portion of that borough on the west side of the East River. She is
certainly one of the more committed, involved members of the mediocre Council that just
could never accept term limits.
her name was on the bill to reverse term limits, Freed ultimately voted it down because it
was just too divisive. Sadly, this self-made champion of the people explains
away her support of the bill by claiming, the issue needed a fair hearing and
she did not believe it was going to pass.
Kathryn Freed & Michael Schenkler
portrays her record with pride, citing her background as a neighborhood activist as the
basis of her expertise on zoning, traffic and pollution. A self-proclaimed
environmentalist, she opposed the spraying of malathion to fight West Nile, advocates
banning trucks from Manhattan during peak hours, wants buses and City vehicles to use
lower sulphur fuels, and originally had a staff member request directions by train to our
Fresh Meadows office. (Take the local from Continental east towards Bayside).
shes not Manhattan-centric, but this writer is always a bit uneasy when the outer
boroughs exist for Manhattan politicians basically as campaign stops or speaking
spoke of her work to bring a library to Chinatown. I responded with pride, talking about
the phenomenal, culturally rich, new Flushing Library serving our Asian population. I
cited its architectural credentials and suggested she visit it as a model for other
libraries. She bragged on about her Manhattan branch.
willingness to stand up to political heavyweights is admirable. She took after Assembly
Speaker Sheldon Silver whose Lower East Side district overlaps her own.
commuter tax was bad enough, she criticized Silvers political deal that costs
the city $400 million annually, getting nothing in return. Then they stole more
money from us, she continued to chastise the Speaker.
come Yonkers still has a commuter tax? she demanded.
[Silver] is not representing his District.
Vallone, her Speaker from the Council, was treated with more deference, but not too
use of campaign staff and mailings is on the edge. While its a gray area, no elected
official should do that type of thing, Freed insisted. Perception is a big
enough problem already, she added, I dont approve of what the Speaker is
fighting spirit took us to Chinatown sweatshops and her insistence upon union-made goods
for City uniforms.
I spent Saturday walking the streets of Kathryns district Chinatown and SoHo
with Lil and Allison (my wife and daughter for newcomers to this space).
remarked on the impressive effort of the SoHo Partnership since I witnessed a number of
uniformed workers keeping the area efficiently spotless. She accepted the compliment with
pride and cited additional effective neighborhood achievements.
when I asked about the seemingly hundreds of booths that lined a garbage strewn Canal
Street, each of which sold knockoffs of Breitlings and Rolexes ($10 - $75 tell them
Mike sent you), the counterfeit new NSynch album Pop, and Louis Vitton, Kate
Spade, Gucci-lookalike bags . . . all in clear violation of the trademark laws . . . Freed
reacted, they dont do enforcement.
can only do what we can do, Freed said, suggesting that City agencies should deal
with this problem.
really effective, Kathryn insisted,
Ive gotten things done.
our brief check of her record bears out her claims.
others in the Public Advocate race, I just dont rant and rail, she noted. In addition to being an ombudsman, the
Public Advocate must reach out and show people the system will work for them.
describes her campaign as a street campaign, crediting its effectiveness to her grass
roots organizing experience. She was firm in her belief that she differed from the field
of candidates in that she was a coalition builder.
was born to a blue-collar family. She was the first of her entire family to attend college
and she put herself through College and law school. We were surprised to hear that she was
the first and the only female attorney member of the City Council.
environmental theme and her commitment to people and their neighborhoods were a consistent
thread throughout our two-hour chat.
looked in our eyes and spoke from her heart, proclaiming:
Im one of the good guys.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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