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New York attorney general Letitia James ends her run for governor

New York Attorney General Letitia James
Alex Brandon

New York Attorney General Letitia James suspended her campaign for governor on Thursday, saying she will run for reelection to her current position to “finish the job” amid numerous ongoing investigations.

James, a Democrat, had announced in late October that she was running for governor, two months after a sexual harassment investigation she oversaw led former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. She had been expected to be a strong challenger against Gov. Kathy Hochul for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in an increasingly crowded field.

“I have come to the conclusion that I must continue my work as attorney general,” James, a Democrat, said in a statement. “There are a number of important investigations and cases that are underway, and I intend to finish the job. I am running for re-election to complete the work New Yorkers elected me to do.”

James, 63, is the first woman elected as New York’s attorney general and the first Black person to serve in the role. Had she been elected to the governor's mansion, James would have been the first Black person elected to the role. Former Gov. David Paterson took over in 2007 when Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal and never ran for the office in his own right.

James ended her campaign for governor the same day it was reported that she was seeking to have former President Donald Trump sit for a Jan. 7 deposition in an ongoing civil probe into his business practices. James' office would not comment on the Trump matter but it has spent more than two years looking at whether the Trump Organization misled banks or tax officials about the value of assets.

Earlier on Thursday, James’ office canceled a planned event on Long Island.

Hochul said she respects James tremendously, and is looking forward to appearing with her on the statewide ticket.

“This is a very bad day for Donald Trump and the NRA,” said Hochul.

Hochul still faces a challenge Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi who announced a series of statewide tele-town meetings in the coming weeks. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is also a candidate, and New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio has expressed interest in getting in to the race.

James, Williams and de Blasio all have a political base in Brooklyn, which would have left the three of them dividing up that support and individually weaker as they tried to take on Hochul’s backing in upstate and western New York.

The governor said she is running her campaign as an underdog, and taking nothing for granted. She said she sees “warning signs” in the 2021 Republican wins in the governorship of Virginia, the close race in New Jersey where Governor Phil Murphy narrowly won re-election and GOP victories on Long Island.

“I have been heeding that warning,” Hochul said. “As leader of the New York State Democratic Party, it is also on my shoulders to pull it together and have unity in our party. Because we have to make sure that the Republicans do not get a foothold anywhere.”

Hochul said that includes fighting for Democrats to hold seats in the state Senate, Assembly and Congress.

James’ decision to seek re election to her current job shakes up the 2022 Attorney General’s race. Several candidates had already announced that they were running in the June primary, anticipating an open seat. They include Fordham Law School professor and activist Zephyr Teachout, and former Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services Maria Vullo.

Since announcing her campaign for governor in October, James held few campaign events or news conferences and mostly stuck to her official calendar as attorney general. In recent weeks, she publicly called for the governor to take more aggressive measures to fight rising COVID-19 cases, such as imposing a statewide mask mandate.

James collected early endorsements from state lawmakers, local officials and at least one nationally known Democrat: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Since she became attorney general in 2019, James' office filed dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration over federal policies on immigration, the environment and other matters. James also filed a lawsuit accusing National Rifle Association leaders of financial mismanagement — seeking to shut down the gun-rights organization — and has secured hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements from companies involved in the opioid industry.

James’ decision to run for governor so soon after overseeing the investigation that led to Cuomo’s exit reinforced feelings among his allies that the probe was politically motivated — an assertion James has dismissed.

As governor, Cuomo endorsed James for attorney general and headlined a fundraiser for her in 2018 as she ran in a four-way Democratic primary to replace Eric Schneiderman, who abruptly resigned amid allegations that he abused women.

Both the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office are on the ballot in 2022.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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