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Brooklyn Pol Harris: Poor health, post-storm woes drove me to bankruptcy

Coney Island Assemblymember Blames Deep Debt on Cancer Battles, Superstorm Sandy

August 3, 2016 By James Harney Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Assemblymember Pamela Harris. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas
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Brooklyn Assemblymember Pamela Harris responded Tuesday to published reports that she and her husband owed more than $30,000 in back taxes, explaining that a series of illnesses and the ravages of Superstorm Sandy on their home left them all but penniless.

In an “open letter to the media and my neighbors,” Harris (D-Coney Island) fired back at the “hurtful insinuations” in the New York Daily News, which reported Monday that the assemblymember and her husband Leon filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2013 and owed money to “at least 15 creditors.”

“It seems the time has come to bare all in hopes of clearing the air surrounding my personal financial dealings,” Harris, 55, who won a special election to the District 46 seat last November, said in the opening paragraph of her letter.

“In 2006, I received the traumatic news that I had developed breast cancer. Just three short weeks later, our family was once again blindsided as my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Together the cost of health care for our family was astronomical.”

Harris wrote that “in the following years, I underwent three major surgeries that resulted in the removal of my right breast. My body initially rejected the procedure, I was sick for months.”

She added, however, that “the worse wasn’t over for my family. In 2012, my husband Leon was employed as a boiler mechanic when he was seriously injured on the job, leaving him unable to work and severely impacting our household income.

“Not long after, Superstorm Sandy devastated our community and destroyed the modest Coney Island home that we own,” the letter continued. “Left with no other options after so many brutal financial hits, my husband and I made the difficult decision to declare Chapter 13 bankruptcy.”

“Contrary to the New York Daily News’ hurtful insinuations, we were determined to pay back the debts and immediately set up a repayment plan,” the assemblymember wrote.

Prior  to being elected to the Assembly, Harris served as executive director of Coney Island Generation Gap, an non-profit she says she helped found in 2003 “to give our community’s youth more opportunities to succeed.”

The Daily News report said Coney Island Generation Gap “has listed Harris’ home as its address and has reported on its IRS filing paying $26,000 on occupancy, rent, utilities and maintenance.”

The News added that on her financial disclosure form to the state, Harris reported that she and her husband each received between $5,000 to $20,000 in rental income from tenants in 2015. The filing, the paper’s report said, did not list the identity of the tenants.

Harris refuted the Daily News’ report, saying: “To be clear, not once have we received rent, compensation or financial assistance of any kind from CIGG.”

The assemblymember insisted in her letter that she “never intended to burden the public with the details of my private battles; however, in light of the recent attacks on me and my family, I felt compelled to ensure Brooklyn’s residents were aware of both sides of the story — not just the skewed accusations of the press or of the establishment trying to damage my reputation.”


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