New York Attorney General Letitia James formally announced Friday that she is running for governor, a widely anticipated move from the woman who oversaw an investigation into allegations that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed numerous women.
James enters the race as a formidable candidate for the Democratic nomination just months after issuing a damning report that drove Andrew Cuomo from office in a sexual harassment scandal.
James, 63, is the first woman elected as New York’s attorney general and the first Black person to serve in the role. With a power base in New York City, she is poised to be a top threat to Gov. Kathy Hochul, who had been Cuomo’s lieutenant governor.
Hochul, who is from the Buffalo area, entered office with a reputation as a political centrist but has been striving to win over New York City progressives, making numerous appearances in the city during her first months in office.
The attorney general released her official campaign video Friday afternoon confirming the long-awaited announcement. In it, she speaks of her Brooklyn roots and passion for speaking on behalf of and fighting for the vulnerable New Yorkers.
"I've gone after the drug companies for fueling the opioid crisis. I've fought for better conditions and transparency in nursing homes. I've sued the Trump administration 76 times, but who's counting," she says.
James also makes reference to her investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former governor. Since the release of the report, Cuomo has stepped down from the top post and charged with a misdemeanor sex crime for allegedly groping a woman at the state's Executive Mansion last year.
"I've held accountable those who mistreat and harass women in the workplace, no matter how powerful the offender," James says.
James, who was born and raised in Brooklyn and made her first run for City Council as a candidate of the liberal Working Families Party, would have the reverse task of winning over upstate Democrats who might be more conservative.
Before this year, James was best known nationally for her frequent legal tussles with former President Donald Trump.
Since she became attorney general in 2019, her office has investigated Trump’s business affairs and sued the Republican’s administration dozens of times over federal policies on immigration, the environment and other matters.
James also filed a lawsuit accusing the National Rifle Association’s leaders of financial mismanagement, the latest in a string of regulatory actions that have delighted liberals but drawn complaints from Republicans that she has unfairly used her office to target political opponents.
Under public pressure, Cuomo last year authorized James to investigate allegations he had sexually harassed several women. The independent investigators she hired to conduct the inquiry released a report in August concluding that there were credible allegations from 11 women, including one aide who said the governor had groped her breast.
Race for Governor
Cuomo and his political advisers assailed the report as an unfair and inaccurate hit job, designed to drive him out of a job James coveted. But he resigned from office in August, saying the state couldn’t afford the distraction of an impeachment fight.
James dismissed the charge that her investigation was politically motivated, saying Cuomo should take responsibility for his own conduct.
James’ announcement will set the stage for a competitive race featuring Hochul fighting to retain the job she got when Cuomo quit, and a host of other potential candidates who could sap some of the attorney general’s potential downstate strength.
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have both said they are considering a run. Two other potential Democratic candidates come from Long Island: Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone and U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, who lives in Nassau County.
Cuomo might also be a factor in the race. After leaving office, he has dug into his campaign funds to pay the salaries of spokespeople and lawyers who have spent months blasting James’ integrity on television and on social media.
Republican candidates include U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Trump-aligned congressman from Long Island; Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who lost to Cuomo in 2014.
The primary election is in June and the general election is in November 2022.
Before becoming attorney general, James was New York City’s public advocate, an elected job where she acted as a sort of city ombudsman. Previously, she was a member of the City Council. She worked as a public defender and an assistant state attorney general. She graduated from Lehman College in the Bronx and earned her law degree from Howard University in Washington.