Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has been serving in her position since 2002, and is the first African-American to serve as the borough’s president. She is also currently the city’s only African-American borough president. Residing in East Elmhurst, she serves the 2.2 million people who live in the borough of Queens.
A native New Yorker, Marshall was born in Harlem to Guyanese parents. She spent several years of her childhood moving around the city, living in the Bronx and Brooklyn. After the deaths of her mother and father, she moved to Queens. She graduated from Queens College with a degree in education.
“I love this area so much, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that everyone has a superior quality of life,” she said.
Marshall has taken graduate courses at Bank Street College of Education and Long Island University. She is a recipient of the President’s Medal from Hunter College, LaGuardia Community College and St. John’s University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in science from the College of Aeronautics.
Having started her career in education, Marshall was a founder of the Langston Hughes Library in Corona, and has been a lifelong advocate for public libraries, job training programs and economic development. She was a parent activist in the public schools system for 15 years and a member of Community Board 3 for 13 years. She is also a founder of the Queens County Overall Economic Development Corporation.
“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I never wanted to be an elected official. But I wanted to do something to make my community a better place.”
Prior to becoming Queens borough president, Marshall represented the 21st District in City Council for 10 years, beginning in 1991 when she secured 91 percent of the vote. She was the founding chair of the Higher Education Committee and fought against the privatization of remedial programs of CUNY. She also served as a member of the Housing and Buildings, Environmental Protection and Women’s Issues Committees, and co-chaired the City Council’s Black and Latino Caucus.
While a member of City Council she supported expansions and upgrades of every library in her district, restored funding to rebuild a free children’s dental clinic in Corona, led the fight to prevent the sale of Elmhurst and the Queens Hospital Center and provided funding for two new seniors centers and for vans to transport seniors. She was also the prime sponsor of legislation to relieve senior citizens’ contributions to Medicare Part B.
Marshall served five years in the New York State Assembly, where she served on the rules committee. She was elected to her first term as Queens Borough president in 2001, winning 68 percent of the vote.
She has been married to Donald Marshall for more than 50 years and has two children, Donald Jr. and Agnes Marie. She is the grandmother of Chandler and Chasen.