In a virtual celebration of Shulman’s life co-hosted by Acting Borough President Sharon Lee’s office, dozens of people shared fond memories about the trailblazing Queens leader, who passed away last month at the age of 94. Shulman served as borough president from 1986 to 2002.
“She blazed many trails, she punched through many glass ceilings,” said Lee, who praised her predecessor’s ability to move the needle, mountains and hearts. “She shepherded Queens for more than 16 years into the 21st century with grace, humility and unrivaled determination to build a better, stronger borough.”
Lee announced during the celebration that her office is working on issuing a vanity address for Borough Hall within 2020.
“Before the end of this year,” she added, “Queens Borough Hall will also be 1 Claire Shulman Way.”
Shulman’s family members spoke first during the virtual event. Dr. Lawrence Shulman, her son, said she provided “unconditional love” for her family.
“In good times and bad times, we relied on her sage advice,” he said. “She was always there for us to point us in the right direction.”
Shulman, an oncologist, noted that he saw his mother more as a public servant than a politician. He said she was interested in making the world a better place for future generations.
“She never gave that up at the age of 94, whe was still working and pushing for redevelopment projects in Queens,” he said. “She taught all of us to do the same thing, leave the world a better place than it was before.”
Stuart Wagner, Shulman’s brother who is 16 years her junior, said although she was always busy with the rigors of her political career, she always put family first.
Wagner recalled that Shulman ordered the transfusion that saved his life when he was 16 years old and suffered a burst appendix. The former Queens borough president also drove Wagner’s wife to the hospital to give birth when he was in Vietnam.
“My big sister was warm and loving with a great sense of humor who cared deeply for us all, she was generous to a fault,” he said. “She will always be in my heart and mind.”
Several history-making women elected officials credited Shulman for encouraging them to run for higher office. Attorney General Letitia James said Shulman supported her run for public advocate when she was a Brooklyn City Council member.
James also revealed that the former borough president quietly urged her to run for mayor before she was eventually elected as the first Black woman to serve as attorney general.
“She gave life to so many of our dreams,” James said. “She continued to lift me up despite my own doubts.
“She was someone I consulted with privately, and led me and pushed me on, even when I wanted to just stay back,” she added. “Claire will always be a trailblazer for women in politics, but she was so much more.”
Congresswoman Grace Meng, the first and only Asian-American to represent New York in Congress, said Shulman believed in her “before I believed in myself.”
“Claire also believed strongly in empowering women and pushing for more women in leadership positions in politics and beyond,” she said. “She did this before it was popular to do so.”
State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, a close friend of Shulman’s, admitted that the former borough president had suggested to Stavisky that she should run for the position. She praised Shulman for maintaining an interest in helping people even after her tenure as borough president was over.
“She was so active, even at the age of 94, thinking of ways to make Queens a better place,” she said.
Another close friend who paid tribute to Shulman was Alexandra Rosa, who served as Shulman’s chief of staff at Borough Hall. Rosa said she called her boss “Ma” because Shulman was not only a mentor, but served as a “second mother.”
Rosa recalled meeting Shulman when she was just 23 years old. Her initial reaction was that she was a little afraid due to her “commanding presence.”
“As her chief of staff, I had a front-row seat as she used her unique ability to be powerful and tough, to cajole, to be collaborative,” she said, “all with the aim of getting people to say yes to projects that she wanted to get done for Queens.”
Rosa, who worked with Shulman on the city budget, said those negotiations lasted for days, but the former borough president never left the room. When asked how she managed to stay so attentive, Shulman reportedly replied,” I’m a registered nurse, I used to do night duty.”
“She had high expectations for herself and for everybody around her,” Rosa said. “She appreciated the team she had built. We worked together as a team and made decisions together.”