by Andrew Kerr
- Democrat Senate hopeful Kyrsten Sinema says she went three years without running water or electricity during her childhood.
- Court records obtained by The New York Times show that Sinema’s mother and stepfather made payments for power and gas during that three-year period.
- Multiple members of Sinema’s extended family dispute her recollection of events.
Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who is currently neck-and-neck in her bid flip Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat blue, may have embellished on key details surrounding her homeless upbringing, according to a new report.
Since announcing her bid for Senate, Sinema has frequently pointed to her impoverished childhood in which she lived for three years in an abandoned gas station in Florida without running water or electricity.
But court documents obtained by The New York Times reveal that Sinema’s mother and stepfather had provided a judge with records detailing monthly payments they made for electricity, phone and gas bills during the same time she says she lived without those utilities.
Sinema did not have an answer when asked by The Times why her stepfather made payments for power and gas, nor did she address directly whether she had ever embellished details about her upbringing in the Florida gas station in the mid-1980s.
“Oh gosh, I don’t have an answer for that,” Sinema said. “That’s not something a little kid would hear about from her parents.”
“I’ve shared what I remember from my childhood. I know what I lived through,” Sinema added. Her family moved out of the gas station when she was 11.
Recent polls show that Sinema is currently in a statistical tie with her Republican opponent, Martha McSally, in the race to succeed Flake in what’s considered one of the most important Senate races of 2018.
Sinema’s mother and stepfather defended her recollection of living without electricity or running water in a statement Monday in reaction to The Times’ story.
“Kyrsten is right about this challenging time in our lives… With no source of income, we lived in Andy’s parents’ closed country gas station without electricity, bathroom facilities or running water,” the statement read.
However, Sinema told The Washington Post in 2013 her family did have bathroom facilities when they lived in the gas station. “[W]e had a toilet,” she said, but had no answer when asked how the toilet was able to flush without running water.
While WaPo reported in August that the property did not receive service from the local water utility until 2002, many in the area relied on well water during the time when Sinema’s family lived at the gas station, according to people who lived in the community.
Multiple members of Sinema’s extended family have accused the Senate candidate of embellishing the hardships she faced as a child.
“The child grew up being taken care of,” Sinema’s step-aunt, Susie Fleming, told WaPo. “I realize this tugs at people’s heartstrings and that was what she was going for, but, you know, it’s not the truth.”
“When they decided to move out here, my dad said, ‘We’ll remodel the building and y’all can live in it,’” Fleming, who still lives in the area, added. “I just get angry when she says it was an abandoned gas station.
Flemming’s brother, John Howard, who now owns the gas station, said he recalled the property having both water and electricity during the time Sinema lived there.
He told WaPo that his parents, the owners of the property at the time, “had freezers in the back of the store for their own personal use.”
“It just bothers me a little bit that someone would say that about family, period,” Howard said. “It doesn’t really make sense to me.”
But Sinema stood by her description.
“A gas station is not a home,” she told WaPo. “It was not designed to be a home. We had to live there because we didn’t have another place to live.”
While key details of Sinema’s recollection of living at the gas station have come under scrutiny, there’s no question her family fell under hard times during that portion of her childhood.
Sinema’s family relied heavily on government welfare and assistance from their local church when they lived at the gas station, and at one point her mother, Marilyn, had only $13.69 in the bank, according to The Arizona Republic.
“Most of the food that we had during that time came from the church,” Sinema, who no longer ascribes to a faith, told WaPo. “The LDS church has a pantry where they keep a lot of nonperishable food items,” she said in reference to the Mormon church.
Sinema’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
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