BY STEVEN J. FERRARI
In the 1988 comedy “Coming To America,” Eddie Murphy’s character, Prince Akeem, decides to visit the United States in search of his bride-to-be.
Looking for “a woman with grace, elegance, taste and culture,” Akeem and his advisor search a map for a place in the U.S. where they could find such a woman. To find a future queen, they decide, what better place than Queens?
The scenario in the film is, of course, played for laughs. But over the last few decades, Borough residents have been known to support strong women in politically powerful roles.
One of the best indicators that Queens is a place that is open to having a woman lead is the office of the Queens Borough President.
For nearly three decades, Queens has consistently elected a woman to serve as Borough President. Claire Shulman took over as BP in 1986 when Donald Manes resigned. She was re-elected to the position in 1989, 1993 and 1997, before stepping down due to term limits. Her successor, Helen Marshall, also served three full terms as Borough President before stepping down at the end of last year.
The current Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz, was elected last year, after serving as a member of the City Council and the State Assembly.
Perhaps one of the most well-known political women to call Queens home is the late Geraldine Ferraro. After being named as an assistant district attorney in Queens in 1974, Ferraro went on to win an election for a seat in Congress in 1978. She represented a district that stretched from Astoria to Ozone Park, and quickly rose to power within the Democratic Party in the early 1980s.
Capping off her service in Congress, Ferraro was selected as a running mate for Walter Mondale’s 1984 bid for president, making her the first woman to run on a major party’s national ticket in the United States.
Today, the New York’s delegation within the House of Representatives includes seven women, and four of those seven represent Queens in some way. The districts of U.S. Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Garden City), Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) all include a piece of Queens. The fourth woman, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), finds her district entirely within the Borough.
Meng, who is finishing her first term in Congress, is not only the first woman to be elected to represent a district completely in Queens since Ferraro, but she is also the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress from the East Coast.
Within the State Assembly, only 33 of the body’s members are female, with seven women coming from Queens. With 18 representatives from Queens in total serving in the Assembly, the seven women who come from the Borough make up one of the highest concentrations of women in any part of New York State.
The women who serve in the Assembly cover all parts of the Borough, from Western Queens – including Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth), Catherine Nolan (D-Sunnyside) and Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) – to the east – with Nily Rozic (D-Hillcrest) and Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) – to Southeast Queens, represented by Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and Michelle Titus (D-South Ozone Park).
In the City Council, only 15 of the Council’s 51 members are female. Of those members, three – Councilwomen Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) – represent Queens in full. In the State Senate, Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) has served her constituents since 1999.
Voters in Queens do not hesitate to mark a vote for a strong woman leader. Perhaps Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem made the right choice when he came to Queens for a woman with grace, elegance, taste and culture.
Reach Steven J. Ferrari at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 122, email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @stevenferrari.