Not showing up to work, but still collecting checks.
That’s what Assemblymember Pamela Harris has been doing, according to the New York Daily News, ever since she was indicted on 11 counts in federal court on the morning of Tuesday, January 9, for allegedly defrauding various government entities of tens of thousands of dollars.
Harris, says the News, has failed to attend meetings in Albany on behalf of residents of the 46th Assembly District since being charged with two counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of making false statements, two counts of bankruptcy fraud, one count of witness tampering and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice in relation to a variety of alleged schemes that arose in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, leaving her constituents without representation in the state Assembly.
“Our view is elected officials are supposed to come to Albany to represent the constituents so that’s where they should be,” said Blair Horner, executive director for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a non-partisan, nonprofit, research and public education organization. “That is their job. They get paid to do it so they should be here unless there is some health or family emergency.”
While, Horner said, NYPIRG had not done “the research to prove she wasn’t there,” he noted that Harris has been “listed as excused [so] you know she wasn’t there” for particular votes.
Asked if the assemblymember’s indictment was a proper excuse for not showing up, Horner replied, “Not in our view. She certainly is entitled to the presumption of innocence but if a legislator isn’t coming to Albany or there is no legislator for a particular district, those constituents’ voices aren’t heard.”
Communications and Marketing Manager of Citizens Union Priscilla Grim declined to comment on Harris specifically, steering the conversation instead to the issue of public corruption.
“We don’t have any information on her attendance record nor do we care to comment on that,” Grim said, “but we’re super concerned about public corruption. It doesn’t really further our mission to talk about her specifically but there is a problem of elected officials violating the trust of the public. Under the justice system that we have, people are innocent until proven guilty so we can’t really comment on her situation, but corruption is a huge problem. We need to think about that.”
Grim did zero in on the fact that Harris initially won her office in a special election.
“With special elections, the public are completely taken out of the process,” Grim said. “It’s not really an election. It’s just solidifying the wishes of the party. We need to reform our special election system.”
At least one local politico thinks Harris should resign in time for her seat to be added to the April 24 special election that was called recently by Governor Andrew Cuomo to fill 11 vacant legislative seats. Brooklyn Reform Party Chair Bob Capano said, “Assemblywoman Harris has the opportunity to finally do the right thing for her constituents by immediately resigning so that residents can elect someone to properly represent them in Albany.
“Although the headlines and shock of her indictment has dissipated, the fact remains she is ineffective and toxic in Albany,” Capano went on. “Residents of the 46th Assembly District deserve a voice in Albany this year, not someone who legislators are avoiding. How can she get anything done for us if no one wants to work with her?”
Contacted for comment, a staff member at Harris’s office would say only, “We cannot comment on this matter at this time.”
Harris represents portions of South Brooklyn including Bay Ridge and Coney Island.