Councilwoman Letitia James moved quickly this week to diffuse what could have been a major distraction in her re-election campaign, personally heading to a Department of Finance office in Manhattan to pay $9,000 in overdue property taxes on her Lafayette Avenue house.
The April 7 payment still leaves a balance of $837.46, according to city records.
James had initially told The Brooklyn Paper that she hasn’t paid the year-old bills because she was waiting for her IRS refund check, but later decided that media coverage of her debt to society, first reported by our sister publication, Courier Life, had become “a distraction.”
“It’s my responsibility,” she said on Thursday, adding that she never saw the late payments as a scandal.
“I’m not removed from the tough times in this economy,” said James, who makes $122,500 as the people’s representative for Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. “I’m not unique as a New Yorker.”
When asked how the information came to light in the first place, James suggested that someone leaked it to a reporter.
“It came from the millionaires and the billionaires I’ve challenged over the years,” she said, a reference to her opposition to the Atlantic Yards project and to its developer Bruce Ratner, who has funded a non-profit run by Delia Hunley-Adossa, James’s main opponent for the Democratic nomination in September.
James had taken a swipe at Hunley-Adossa over that non-profit as the property tax scandal unfolded last week.
“If I started a not-for-profit, I could take money from [Mayor] Bloomberg and Ratner to pay [my property taxes],” she quipped at the time.
James isn’t alone in paying late, though she owes significantly more than other public figures.
In the wake of the James mini-scandal, The Brooklyn Paper conducted an exhaustive search of city records and discovered that Councilwoman Darlene Mealy (D–Williamsburg) owes $842 since October, 2008, on her Herkimer Street residence.
One of Brooklyn’s literary elite has an overdue bill, too. Jonathan Safran Foer — well known to Brooklyn Paper readers as the greatest writer of his generation — owes the Finance Department $0.05 on his Park Slope manse, most likely not enough to trigger any punishment from city officials.
Last May, James ran into deeper trouble when her campaign was fined $5,000 by the Campaign Finance Board for overpaying a staff worker with taxpayer money provided through the city’s public campaign financing.