Teachers’ Union Vows To Fight For Harris & Other Candidates Targeted By Education Reform PAC

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Pam Harris at a press conference in Kaiser Park last week. (Photo by Alex Ellefson/Sheepshead Bite)

Pam Harris at a press conference in Kaiser Park last week. (Photo by Alex Ellefson/Sheepshead Bite)

New York State United Teachers  (NYSUT) pledged last month to wage a vigorous defense of its endorsed candidates who have come under attack from a group pushing for a controversial private school education tax break, including Assemblywoman Pamela Harris, who is up for reelection.

The vow was in response to a report that a Super PAC funded by wealthy Wall Street interests pushing for private school tax breaks is targeting four state legislative candidates backed by the statewide union. In addition to Harris, the union’s endorsed candidates include State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly incumbents Phil Ramos and Latrice Walker.

“These candidates have earned NYSUT’s endorsement by being dedicated to protecting public education and improving the lives of working families,” said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. “We are not only proud to support their candidacies, we will be fierce in our defense of any attack waged upon them by anti-labor forces and wealthy extremists who seek to inflict damage upon the state’s public education system for their own benefit.”

The freshman assemblywoman, who won a special election last year, is being challenged for the 46th Assembly District seat — which covers Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Coney Island, and parts of Brighton Beach and Gravesend —  by her predecessor’s former chief of staff Kate Cucco. A primary election on September 13 will determine which candidate will get the Democratic nod in November’s general election.

In an open letter earlier this week, the assemblywoman blamed the PAC, New Yorkers for Independent Action, for stories that surfaced in the media about her past bankruptcy filings and her allegedly inappropriately close relationship with the non-profit she founded Coney Island Generation Gap, which she has admitted continued to operate out of her home after she took office.

She has also pushed back against allegations that she accepted rent money in exchange for housing the non-profit and told us she has since ended all financial ties to CIGG. In the letter, Harris attributed her debt and bankruptcy filing — stemming primarily from owed back taxes and defaulted mortgage payments — to a series of health crises in her family, including her own battle with breast cancer in 2006.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said the early endorsements — approved by the union’s Board of Directors — are intended to jumpstart the four campaigns, adding that NYSUT will be “absolutely relentless” in its defense of the candidates.

“Make no mistake: Our members not only stand ready to work tirelessly on behalf of the candidates we have endorsed, but will also confront head-on any attack made against public education and the working class,” said Pallotta.

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO. Harris has also won endorsements from the Working Families Party and the healthcare workers’ union 1199SEIU.