Exclusive: Harris says she is fighting back
Assembly member plagued by revelations of financial problems
State Assemblymember Pamela Harris admits that she feels under siege.
In the wake of revelations, first reported by the New York Daily News, that she faced personal financial problems and filed for bankruptcy, Harris took the unusual step of issuing a public letter to explain her situation.
“I do feel a little like I am under siege, like I am being attacked. But it only fuels my fire. I am determined to make things work for this district,” Harris told the Brooklyn Eagle in an exclusive interview on Aug. 4 at Cocoa Grinder, a café located a few doors down from her district office on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge.
Harris is also fighting back against allegations that Coney Island Generation Gap (CIGG), a nonprofit organization she founded to help kids, has been helping her political campaign. Not true, she said, calling the allegations “hurtful.”
In the letter, Harris, who is locked in a tense primary battle with fellow Democrat Kate Cucco, wrote that her money troubles were due largely to the high costs she incurred for breast cancer treatments and that she and her husband Leon are working their way toward financial solvency.
Harris, a retired correction officer, has been in the New York State Assembly for less than a year.
But she said her brief tenure has been filled with tons of activities, both in terms of legislation and in terms of community relations. She has sponsored or co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation, secured state funding for schools, parks, senior citizen centers and police precincts in her district and visited schools, senior centers, block parties and street fairs to talk to constituents.
On her first day in the Assembly in 2015, Harris drafted a bill that would allow New York state to seize tax refunds from property owners responsible for illegal home conversions. “We’ve spent months tweaking the bill, making it perfect. We want to make sure when it passes that it sticks,” she said.
“My first six months, I was pretty dynamic,” she told the Eagle.
Among the bills Harris has sponsored is one that would make it easier for communities to apply for state funding under the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) program. The bill was passed by the Assembly and the state Senate and is awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
Another bill seeks to extend the Paid Family Leave Act to construction workers. Under state law, a worker has to be on the job for at least 26 weeks to qualify. “But when you work in construction, you work on one project and when that’s finished, start another project. The time wasn’t carrying over,” she explained.
Harris is currently working on a project to turn a former Department of Sanitation garage in Coney Island into a parking facility. She is also seeking to establish a multi-cultural center somewhere in her district.
She also gets around, she said. At National Night Out, an Aug. 2 happening held to improve police-community relations, Harris went to events at four police precincts; the 60th, 61st , 62nd and 68th precincts. The 61st Precinct, which covers Sheepshead Bay, isn’t technically in her district. “But I have old friends there from my days as a correction officer,” she said.
The freshman lawmaker, who represents the 46th Assembly District (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Coney Island) is facing her first big test.
Kate Cucco, former chief of staff to Harris’ predecessor Alec Brook-Krasny, is challenging her in the Democratic Primary on Sept. 13. The winner will be the Democratic candidate in the general election on Nov. 8.
Harris won a special election in November of 2015, four months after Brook-Krasny resigned to take a private sector job.
The primary contest doesn’t scare her. “I love campaigning. I love meeting and talking to people. It’s in my DNA,” she said.
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