By Gina Martinez
Former Flushing Councilwoman Judith Harrison died at age 97 last week after battling an undisclosed illness.
The controversial Democrat, who represented Flushing’s 19th District (now District 20) from 1986 to 2001, died Aug. 3.
Born Julia Hirsch on June 10, 1920, in Rochester, N.Y., she moved to Flushing in 1954 after marrying Joseph Harrison. Before entering politics she was a civic activist, working on union movements and parent-teacher associations. In 1968, she participated in Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign. After earning her bachelor of arts degree in political science from Queens College in 1972, Harrison joined the Democratic Club of Flushing, Whitestone and College Point, and was elected district leader for the New York State 26th Assembly District.
After an unsuccessful run in 1978, Harrison was elected to the Assembly to fill the vacancy caused by the election of the late Leonard P. Stavisky to the state Senate in 1983. Two years later, she was elected to the City Council.
Harrison had a successful run as a councilwoman. One of her biggest achievements came during her tenure as chairwoman of the Committee on Aging, where she led a campaign to assist seniors with the Senior Citizens Homeowners Exemption and Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption programs. Her committee also investigated elder abuse, elderly drug abuse, and the state’s Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program.
Harrison caused controversy in 1996 when she was quoted in a New York Times article expressing anti-Asian sentiments. In the interview, she said recent Asian immigrants were different from immigrants from Eastern Europe. “They were more like colonizers than immigrants,” she said of Asians. “The money came first. The paupers followed, smuggled in and bilked by their own kind.”
Harrison’s Council career ended in 2001 when she was forced to give up her seat because of term limits. She was succeeded by John Liu.
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) offered his condolences to Harrison’s friends and family.
“Former Councilwoman Julia Harrison served Flushing during a transitional period in our community’s history,” he said. “I know she fought hard against her illness for a long time, which is a testament to her tremendous strength.”
Harrison is survived by her three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Aug. 18 at the Quinn-Forgetty Funeral Home on Northern Boulevard.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart