Public Advocate Tish James launches campaign for state attorney general

Public Advocate Tish James launches campaign for state attorney general
Going for it: Public Advocate Tish James announced she’s running for New York State Attorney General at the Brooklyn Historical Society in Brooklyn Heights on May 16.
Community News Group / Julianne Cuba

The city’s head advocate officially wants to be the state’s top attorney.

Public Advocate Tish James, a Brooklynite and lawyer who formerly represented Fort Greene as councilwoman, announced her campaign to become New York State’s next attorney general at a rally on Wednesday, less than two weeks after former top prosecutor Eric Schneiderman resigned in disgrace following accusations of sexual and physical assault by four women.

James — who dubbed herself “The People’s Lawyer” — promised to continue fighting for those vulnerable city dwellers she helped in her past and current seats amid a crowd of union reps, local pols, and other supporters who cheered her decision during the event at the Brooklyn Historical Society in Brooklyn Heights.

“Throughout my entire career [I was taught] that the law is the most effective tool in our quest for justice and for progress, and I’ve used it in my work defending our most-vulnerable communities,” James said. “New Yorkers deserve an attorney general who is unwavering in her fight to uphold and defend their most basic rights, and I promise all of you, I will never, ever waver in my fight to uphold and defend your most-basic rights.”

Last week, James took to social media to say she removed herself from the list of candidates interested in interviewing for the job with Albany lawmakers — who can appoint a successor for vacated seats such Schneiderman’s via a so-called back-room deal, according to a New York Times editorial, which criticized that process and demanded the Assembly let Acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood stay in the role she assumed following her former boss’s resignation until voters can elect a replacement in the fall.

“After thoughtful and careful deliberation, I have decided not to participate in the ongoing legislative process regarding the attorney general’s office,” James wrote on Twitter on May 11, two days after the Times published its editorial.

But days later, she formed a committee with the state Board of Elections to run the good old-fashioned way in the September Democratic primary, and launched her campaign on May 16.

And James isn’t the only Brooklynite vying to replace Schneiderman. Former Brooklyn Heights Councilman David Yassky — who briefly eyed the neighborhood’s state Senate seat that Democrat Brian Kavanagh filled last year after Daniel Squadron’s abrupt resignation — reportedly joined the 17-person shortlist of hopefuls who submitted resumes to the Assembly for the attorney general gig.

But Yassky, who now runs Pace University’s law school after representing the Heights in Council from 2001 to 2008, said a supporter actually submitted his resume on the former pol’s behalf. And although he is flattered at the prospect, he thinks Underwood should remain in the role.

“I didn’t submit a resume, I’m not seeking that appointment, and I am very much hoping the legislature designates Barbara Underwood as the interim attorney general,” Yassky said. “She’s ideally suited for the job, and to keep the invaluable work of that office moving forward at this moment.”

And if Underwood remains in the seat, she will face off against James and the other Democratic candidates vying for it in the September primary, the winner of which will then move on to compete in November’s general election.

• • •

This would-be councilman has sunnier days ahead.

Bay Ridge political activist Rev. Khader El-Yateem — who narrowly lost his bid for the neighborhood’s Council seat to Councilman Justin Brannan in last September’s Democratic primary is trading the County of Kings for the Sunshine State.

The Arab-American faith leader is moving to Florida next week to head an outreach program similar to those he ran out of his Salam Arabic Lutheran Church in the Ridge, but said he’ll always have a soft spot for the Brooklynites he’s leaving behind.

“It’s bittersweet, but it’s a really great opportunity to have a bigger voice with issues such as social justice and making the churches more transparent and welcome to immigrant communities,” El-Yateem said.

The reverend, who settled in Bay Ridge in 1995 after immigrating from the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in 1992, is confident he’s leaving the neighborhood in good hands, he said, and proud of the community-building he and his colleagues accomplished, even if there is more to do.

“What I have seen over the past two years is a huge number of people becoming more involved and engaged. It gives me a lot of hope,” he said. “But I see that our community continues to also be fragmented, and I hope the people here to continue to work to bridge the gap.”

Earlier this month, El-Yateem and a handful of other activists launched a new political club Yalla Brooklyn — translated to “Let’s Go Brooklyn” — that encourages civic involvement among immigrants and refugees, and he assured that activism won’t stop when he leaves the County of Kings.

“It is going full swing with candidate forums, political work, education, and voter registration,” the reverend said.

But it’s not goodbye forever to Bay Ridge, according to El-Yateem, who said he’s keeping his house in the neighborhood and won’t rule out moving back one day.

“You never know what’s going to happen down the road — I have deep roots here in Brooklyn, I’m sure one day I will come back,” he said.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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