There’s a new elected official in town.
Newly elected Assemblymember Pamela Harris — a lifelong Coney Island resident whose father had Bay Ridge roots, and who was elected in November to take the place of former Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny representing the 46th Assembly District — celebrated her official swearing in on Sunday, December 13 at I.S. 301, the Herbert S. Eisenberg School, 501 West Avenue.
The inauguration ceremony, which was attended by Harris’ many friends, family members and new partners in government, was kicked off and concluded with special performances from schools and performance groups in the district, which encompasses Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Coney Island, Luna Park, Beach Haven, Brightwater Tower, Luna Park, Trump Village and Warbasse.
Harris was sworn in – with her husband, Leon at her side – by United States Senator Chuck Schumer, following a heartfelt performance of “Hallelujah” by Corrleva McKelzey.
“[Harris] ran here in the 46th Assembly District and surprised everyone – except her family,” said Schumer, stressing that she is the first African American woman to represent a majority-white Assembly district. “That’s a great thing. She got here the old fashioned way – she earned it. All of Brooklyn, all of New York City and – my guess – all of America will be very proud of Pam Harris.”
According to a bevy of guest speakers, Harris – also the first African American to represent the 46th District, specifically – has always been breaking ceilings.
“This was a day that some said would never happen,” said Councilmember Mark Treyger, the master of ceremonies for the swearing in, noting that the high-of-70°-weather wasn’t the only thing making history that afternoon. “This was a day that, I think, really exemplified how we, as one district, have come together.”
“Pam was not supposed to be here because most people think that nothing good comes out of Coney Island,” agreed Public Advocate Letitia James. “They think Coney Island is nothing more than an amusement park, some sand and a beach, but all of you demonstrated that you have overcome storms in your life – both physical and otherwise- and that you are conquerors, that you have tenacity and that you are resilient, and as a result of that, you’ve elected my friend to the New York State Assembly.”
A product of the New York City public school system, Harris – the third of four siblings, one of them her twin sister, Darlene – went on to earn associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Prior to retiring as a corrections officer after 23 years with the New York City Department of Correction, she became the first female truck driver in the field. She was also awarded a Certificate of Outstanding Duty for her heroic efforts on 9/11.
A cancer survivor, Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Soon after, in 2007, she lost her mother to pancreatic cancer. Despite her personal battles (which included the loss of her daughter), she went on to found and serve as the executive director of the Coney Island Generation Gap (CIGG), a not-for-profit created to foster youth mentoring and community leadership.
“[Harris] is someone who has, throughout her entire life, defied all the odds,” said Treyger. “This is someone who, during [Superstorm Sandy], actually left her house while it was underwater to check on her neighbor who is a disabled war veteran because, if not for her and her husband, he could have drowned that day.
“She, with her husband, actually saved his life,” Treyger went on. “That is who Pamela Harris is. That’s who you just elected to be your assemblyperson.”
Humbled by the kind words of colleagues and friends, Harris took to the podium to extend her gratitude, as well as a list of some things that she’s learned.
“I learned that I can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things: R train service, the middle seat on a plane and tangled Christmas lights,” said Harris, naming other lessons like: sometimes you’re granted a second chance, making a living isn’t always making a life and – above all – life always goes on.
“Some of our leaders in the past few years made decisions not realizing the detrimental effects of political wars, homelessness and lack of appropriate funding for education, youth services and senior services, among other things, impact our families,” she said, vowing that, “Together, we will find the best possible solution to the core obstacles we will face together.
“My goal is to promise less and deliver more,” she concluded, assuring those neighborhoods encompassed by her district, “We will be okay.”