Jo Anne grew up in a working class neighborhood in Yonkers, NY. She learned early from her mother, the daughter of Italian immigrants, and her father the value of family, commitment and respect for others. These are the values she brings to her profession and her community advocacy.
Jo Anne graduated from Iona College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Sciences, Gallaudet University with a Master’s Degree in Education of the Deaf, and Fordham University School of Law, where she earned her law degree at night while working full-time.
After stints as a judicial law secretary and teaching in Hofstra University School of Law’s clinical program, she opened a disability civil rights law firm in Downtown Brooklyn and taught as an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School. Jo Anne is a nationally recognized expert in her field and her work has been featured in the New York and National Law Journals.
Since 1981, Jo Anne has made her home in Brooklyn, where she earned a reputation as an effective community leader and activist. She has championed civic engagement and worked to ensure that community members are represented in decisions that impact their lives. She served as President of the Boerum Hill Association and chaired its Traffic & Transportation, Land Use and Atlantic Yards committees. She was a founder or co-founder of numerous community based organizations advocating for progressive, environmentally just and sustainable solutions to transportation and land use projects, including advocacy for parks and open spaces.
Jo Anne was first elected to represent the 52nd Assembly District in 2014 and has fought tirelessly for her constituents. In the 2018 State Budget, she won authorization for design-build procurement to save time and money for repairs to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. She passed a dyslexia bill to ensure that more children can learn to read. She also hosts an annual Dyslexia Awareness Day in Albany. Jo Anne passed a “gender neutral” language bill so that female firefighters and police officers can expand their ranks. She also passed a campaign finance bill in the Assembly to close the infamous “LLC Loophole.”
Jo Anne is a leader on gun violence prevention. The Assembly passed one of her major gun violence prevention bills, the Extreme Risk Protection Order, which would restrict access to firearms for those who pose a serious risk of harm to themselves or others. Jo Anne also sponsors legislation to create a Firearm Violence Research Institute.
She also served as the female Democratic District Leader for the 52nd Assembly District from 2004 to 2014. Jo Anne has always stood up for her constituents and put principle over politics. She was a forceful leader in ending party boss Vito Lopez’ politics as usual in the Brooklyn Democratic Party. In 2012, she was in the forefront of the effort to force Lopez from office and adopt a series of long-overdue reforms to open up the Kings County Democratic Committee. She is a co-founder of the NY State Democratic Committee’s Progressive Caucus and a member of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, and 504 Democrats.
Jo Anne and her husband Bill Harris, live in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.