Brooklyn native Tish James announces campaign for governor

Letitia James
Attorney General Letitia James
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Attorney General Letitia James, a Brooklyn native, is officially running to be elected Governor of New York State, releasing a campaign ad Friday after weeks of fervent speculation ahead of the race to lead the Empire State.

In her campaign video, James says that she is running to be the state’s chief executive to fight for the little guy in the halls of power.

“I’ve spent my career guided by a simple principle,” James says. “Stand up to the powerful on behalf of the vulnerable, to be a force for change.”

James recounts her record as AG in making her first official pitch to voters, touting a settlement with drug manufacturers over their role in the opioid crisis, litigating the National Rifle Association into bankruptcy, and suing the Trump administration “76 times, but who’s counting.”

She also touched on her report on nursing homes during COVID-19, which first accused the state of hiding data on deaths in the facilities.

A narrator describes James as running for governor “for good-paying jobs, a health care system that puts people ahead of profits, to protect the environment, make housing more affordable, and lift up our schools in every neighborhood.”

James, who has been Attorney General since 2019 and had previously served as Public Advocate and a City Councilmember for Brooklyn’s 35th District, has become the second candidate to officially declare their intentions to contest the Democratic primary, after incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Other candidates who have strongly hinted at an intention to run, but haven’t formally declared, include Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, both fellow Brooklynites.

Hochul, the state’s first female governor, has earned early endorsements from State Democratic Party chair Jay Jay Jacobs, Emily’s List, and the head of New York’s NAACP chapter, but the New York Times reports that James has been making calls seeking early endorsers among political and labor allies in recent days.

After former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decade-long tenure, in which he was often characterized as exercising an iron grip on power allowing him to keep major primary challengers at bay, pols are jumping at the rare shot at the grand prize of statewide office.

Hochul assumed office in August after former  Cuomo’s resignation, in the wake of a report from James’ office substantiating numerous allegations of sexual harassment against him, as well as a toxic workplace culture and professional retaliation by him and his staff. A criminal complaint was filed against Cuomo Thursday in Albany City Court for misdemeanor forcible touching.

In the video, James makes what seems like a thinly veiled reference to her takedown of the disgraced former Governor. “I’ve held accountable those who mistreat and harass women in the workplace,” she says, “no matter how powerful the offenders.”

On numerous occasions before and after his resignation, Cuomo, who has denied all wrongdoing, has accused James of compiling a politically-motivated report to grease the skids of her own gubernatorial ambitions.

James, a native Brooklynite, first ran for City Council in the 35th District, which includes Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, in 2001, but lost the race to James Davis. After Davis was assassinated at City Hall in 2003, James won a special election to replace him, becoming the first officeholder in New York history elected only on the Working Families Party line.

She ran for Public Advocate in 2013, beating State Senator Daniel Squadron to win the citywide office. In 2018, James, an attorney by trade, jumped into the race for Attorney General, opened up suddenly after the resignation of Eric Schneiderman over allegations of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. James bested three other candidates in the Democratic primary and assumed office in early 2019.

“Tish James is a great addition to the diverse field of very accomplished Democratic candidates vying to serve our state,” said Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the Brooklyn Democratic Party chair. “Tish’s track record as Attorney General firmly demonstrates her courage in defending our democracy and makes her a formidable contender.”

The primary to replace James as AG is also expected to be fiercely contested.

Zephyr Teachout, the academic who ran against James in 2018 after previous unsuccessful campaigns for Governor and Congress, has announced plans to run again. Others said to be interested in running for AG include Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Queens DA Melinda Katz, and Queens State Sen. Michael Gianaris.

If elected, James would become the first Black woman ever to serve as Governor of any state in America.