New York State Attorney General Letitia James is reportedly on the verge of announcing a bid for governor in what is likely to be a closely watched and highly competitive race. Three people with direct knowledge of her plans confirmed the news with the Associated Press.
A statement from her senior campaign advisor Wednesday afternoon signaled an official announcement was imminent.
“Attorney General James has made a decision regarding the governor’s race,” said Kimberly Peeler-Allen. “She will be announcing it in the coming days.” The statement was emailed from the personal account of Delaney Kempner, the attorney general’s official spokesperson.
If elected, James would make history as the first Black woman to be governor in the nation.
The first step would be to secure the Democratic primary nomination in June 2022, which means squaring off against the state’s new incumbent, Governor Kathy Hochul, the only declared candidate in the race who made history herself as the state’s first woman governor when she was sworn into office in August of this year.
Speculation about whether James would run for re-election or make a bid for higher office has been mounting for months, as her office has gone after the conduct of some of the country’s most powerful institutions and individuals — the NRA, Amazon, former President Donald Trump, and most notably, former Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In January, her office released a report that found the Cuomo administration dramatically undercounted Covid deaths in nursing homes, an issue the former governor later acknowledged while still seeking to blame the Trump administration.
Over the past year, James has won praise — and condemnation — over her handling of the sexual misconduct allegations made against Cuomo. In late February, her office demanded the full authority to investigate complaints lodged against the governor, pushing back against his request to dictate who would conduct the probe.
A week later, her office announced it hired Joon Kim, former head prosecutor for the U.S. Southern District of New York, and Anne Clark, an employment discrimination attorney.
Their investigation and subsequent report released in August corroborated the allegations of 11 women who accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. He resigned a week later. An attorney for Cuomo, Rita Glavin, has repeatedly criticized the report and how the governor was treated, accusing James of politicizing the investigation for her own benefit.
Glavin’s most recent comments came just a week ago during a live stream broadcast through a campaign website for Cuomo. James, who has repeatedly defended the work of her office and the investigators, issued a response calling it, “another baseless attack from the former governor so he didn’t have to participate in an impeachment hearing.”
A report from the Assembly Judiciary committee into various complaints against Cuomo, which could have led to impeachment proceedings, is still expected to be delivered soon.
Despite the criticism, James’ supporters see her candidacy as the natural next step for a woman who has slogged her way up the political ladder.
“To say this is historic in nature is an understatement,” said L. Joy Williams, head of the Brooklyn chapter of the NAACP and a Democratic political consultant currently unaffiliated with the campaign. “She has the story and the history that would truly make this the people’s governor,” she added, ticking off James’ political resume as an organizer, staffer, Council member, Public Advocate, and currently, state Attorney General.
Williams said she received a call from James on Wednesday telling her she had made her decision about the race, and that she would make a formal announcement in the coming days.
James has served as state Attorney General since 2019, where she also made history as the first Black woman elected to that statewide office. She succeeded Barbara Underwood who was appointed to the office by then-Governor Andrew Cuomo after the resignation of Eric Schneiderman over sexual misconduct allegations in 2018, which was reported in an article in The New Yorker.
When the article was published, James, then the public advocate, said she was at a dinner party with friends, at the time plotting a run for New York City mayor in 2021. Then things shifted, quickly.
“Appetizers came, we all started looking at the article. The main meal came out, Governor Cuomo said, ‘Step down.’ By the time dessert came out, [Schneiderman] stepped down. My phone blew up,” James told The Breakfast Club, the morning radio show on 105.1 FM, in October, 2018 just ahead of her November election. She announced her candidacy for attorney general a week after Schneiderman’s resignation.
Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, who represents Flatlands, Midwood and Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, said James has a track record of standing up for marginalized communities and against, “the Trump and Cuomo administrations.”
“New York State just welcomed its first female governor, Kathy Hochul, and now we have the prospect of welcoming the first Black woman governor in the nation,” said Bichotte, in a statement she posted to Twitter.
Bichotte, who also serves as chair of the Kings County Democratic Committee, also stressed that James’ candidacy further underscored Brooklyn as a seat of power and influence for upcoming elections.
“Our borough will have an enormous decision-making role in 2022 given that we have many allies running in this gubernatorial race,” she added.
Among the other potential challengers, James may face in the Democratic primary are current Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who both come out of Brooklyn politics. Congressman Tom Suozzi, who represents parts of Queens and Nassau counties, has not ruled out running, and even former Governor Cuomo continues to dip into his deep campaign coffers fueling speculation he may mount a comeback.
The timing of James’ announcement is significant. It is expected just days before Election Day in a race where Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, another Democrat, is widely expected to secure a commanding victory over his rival, Republican Curtis Sliwa. A poll from Emerson College and PIX11 showed Adams with support from more than 60 percent of those surveyed.
Even as this current election approaches an end, clearing the path for the next one to begin in earnest, many of those vying for support in next year’s contests will already be headed to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Wednesday for the annual Somos conference.
The seaside event brings together city and state elected officials from across New York, along with lobbyists, union leaders, consultants and job seekers. Elected officials who attend SOMOS routinely hold public receptions, and private meetings, to shape the political landscape in the weeks and months ahead.
The event, which runs through Sunday, is sold out this year after being canceled because of the pandemic in 2020. James is expected to attend, but at least one of her potential rivals will not. A spokesman for Jumaane Willams said he will not be at the conference.