NEW YORK (AP) — 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, including one into former President Donald Trump.
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.
James ended her campaign for governor the same day it was reported that she was seeking to have 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.
“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 governor, James would have been the first Black person voted into the role and the first Black female governor in the U.S. New York’s only Black governor, David Paterson, didn’t run for election after taking over in 2007 when Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a sex scandal.
Earlier on Thursday, James’ office canceled a planned event on Long Island.
Since announcing her campaign 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.
Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University, said Hochul's moves to lock up support may have played a role in James' calculation about whether to keep running.
“Kathy Hochul has been very aggressive these past few months shoring up endorsements and essentially the donor class of New York state. And it’s easier to do that as a sitting incumbent," Greer said.
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.
“All I can say is, I respect her tremendously. Always have," Hochul told reporters Thursday afternoon. She praised the work James has been doing as attorney general: “This is a very bad day for Donald Trump and the NRA.”
In addition to Hochul, James faced a primary race for governor that included U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who represents Long Island, and Jumaane Williams, who serves as a citizen ombudsman in his elected office of New York City Public Advocate. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is also expected to enter the race.
James, Williams and de Blasio all have a political base in Brooklyn, which may 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. Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, a state assembly member and the chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, issued a statement praising James and endorsing Hochul shortly after James announced she was dropping out.
“I am confident that Hochul will be the best choice to lead our state forward through the recovery, and she will have the support of Brooklyn behind her as she continues to blaze a path as our first female governor," Bichotte Hermelyn said.
New York State Democratic Chair Jay S. Jacobs, who previously endorsed Hochul, said he supported James running for attorney general and said she put “the Democratic Party over her own interests and has a deep and genuine concern for what was best for the people of our State.”
James’ reelection as attorney general isn’t guaranteed and will likely involve a party primary like the one that she won en route to the office in 2019. So far, at least four other Democrats are running: Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, former Congressional lawyer Daniel Goldman, former state financial services superintendent Maria Vullo and state assembly member Clyde Vanel. Other candidates were said to be considering a run, buoyed by the prospect of James seeking higher office — now moot.
This story has been corrected to report James is 63, not 62.
Michael R. Sisak And Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press