Claire Shulman rose to power in 1986 with the death of Borough President Donald Manes, but 1989 was the year she was elected to her first full term.
Shulman, who was Manes’ deputy, succeeded the troubled and scandal-ridden borough president, who committed suicide. She was appointed to replace him by the City Council and later in 1986 elected to complete his term.
Shulman’s success in getting things done was reflected in wins in 1989, 1993 and 1997 before she was term-limited out of office.
A Brooklyn native, she started her career as a nurse and worked at Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica, where she met her future husband, Dr. Mel Shulman. After their first child was born she got involved in the community, was appointed to the local planning board in 1968 and later elected its chairwoman. She also served as president of the PS 41 Mothers Club.
Shulman got noticed in Borough Hall when she was able to get PS 41 rehabbed. She went to work at Borough Hall in 1972, serving as director of community boards for eight years. In 1980 she was named deputy borough president, a position she held for five years.
“I was doing the budget for many years, so I was well-prepared for taking over,” Shulman said. “I’ve always been interested in government. Manes was interested in politics.”
She is proud of many accomplishments: getting more seats for public schools and establishing and improving major cultural institutions in Queens such as the Queens Museum of Art, the Queens Zoo and the New York Hall of Science and the expansion at Queens Hospital Center.
More accomplishments? How about putting $100 million worth of sewers into Southeast Queens to prevent flooding, starting the paratransit system, restarting the motion picture industry in Queens and saving the homes of thousands of residents who didn’t have the money to stay when landlords converted buildings to co-ops and raised the prices?
Managing a borough is work, Shulman said: “You have to focus; it’s not magic. The key is to have a good staff and mine was wonderful. We all got satisfaction out of our achievements.”
She called former Mayor Rudy Giuliani “very cooperative,” saying, “He treated all the boroughs equally and he listened to me.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, the 87-year-old serves on the board of New York Hospital Queens in Flushing and is president of the Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corp., which encouraged the Willets Point redevelopment plan and is now focusing on downtown Flushing.
“I’ve had a good run,” she said. “I’m grateful for it.”