Helen M. Marshall, a New York Democrat who was the first African-American to be elected Queens borough president, died on Saturday in California. She was 87.
Her former chief of staff, Alexandra Rosa, confirmed the death.
Ms. Marshall, who served three terms as borough president starting in 2001, was remembered on Saturday as a champion of public libraries and her borough.
She was a “larger-than-life figure in the civic life of Queens” who fought for city resources, Melinda Katz, the current Queens borough president, said in a statement.
Ms. Rosa recalled that Ms. Marshall, who was the second woman elected Queens borough president, had entered office with a detailed list of priorities, which staff members affectionately called the Marshall Plan for Queens.
“Helen wanted to make a difference,” Ms. Rosa said in an interview. “She was very much focused on government’s impact on individual lives.”
In 2013, the Center for an Urban Future reported that Ms. Marshall had steered more money toward library projects in Queens in the preceding decade than the other four borough presidents combined had done in their jurisdictions. She served as the first director of the Langston Hughes Library in Queens and was awarded the statewide Daniel W. Casey Library Advocacy Award in 2005.
Ms. Marshall created the Queens General Assembly, which promoted cross-cultural exchanges among ethnic groups. A slogan she used, Ms. Rosa said, was “Visit Queens and see the world.”
“This job is what you make it,” Ms. Marshall said shortly before being elected to her first term in 2001. “I’m known to be a fighter. I also know how to use power.”
Ms. Marshall served three four-year terms as borough president. Before that she was in the City Council for 10 years and in the State Assembly for eight. Before entering politics, she was a community activist in her East Elmhurst neighborhood, where she pushed for job training programs and economic development.
Ms. Marshall was born in Harlem on Sept. 30, 1929. She graduated from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in education and was an early-childhood teacher for eight years.
Her survivors include a son, Donald Jr.; a daughter, Agnes Marie Marshall; and a sister, Joan Suger. Ms. Marshall’s husband, Donald, died in January.
As borough president, Ms. Marshall was an ardent booster of Queens culture. A former neighbor of Louis Armstrong, she noted in a State of the Borough speech in 2011 that Armstrong’s home in Corona had become a museum and that she had sworn in the experimental poet Paolo Javier as the borough’s poet laureate.
She also paid tribute in that speech to Queens natives like George Vujnovich, who was awarded a Bronze Star 66 years after he orchestrated the largest rescue of American soldiers behind enemy lines during World War II.
Adding a final note of optimism, she said: “I still believe in the human spirit. I still believe in the Mets.”