AG James teases run for governor, bashes Cuomo: ‘Our state can do better’

Letitia James, New York state’s attorney general, during a news conference in New York on Aug. 6, 2020. Bloomberg photo by Peter Foley

NEW YORK — New York State Attorney General Letitia James strongly hinted she plans to run for governor next year during a speech delivered Wednesday to a group of influential political players.

James has long been rumored to be lining up support for a gubernatorial push, and on Wednesday, during a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York, she made her first public allusion to the possibility of a run with a nod to Democratic mayoral nominee and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

James, who served as a Brooklyn Councilwoman and the city’s public advocate before becoming attorney general, noted that Adams was the last person to address ABNY, a group whose events have long served as a launching pad for big political announcements.

“Eric Adams was here last, and he, um, is the Democratic nominee. And here I am, Letitia James — and so, who knows?” she said to laughter, before slyly adding: “Don’t read anything into that ... OK, the reporters are already writing.”

Her remarks came a day after the city’s current Public Advocate Jumaane Williams announced he’s forming an exploratory committee to consider his own 2022 bid for governor.

James focused much of her speech Wednesday on former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom she recently helped unseat from office, and how state government should be revamped to better serve New Yorkers. And while she declined to answer a direct question about whether she’s running for governor, her speech relied on the sort of lofty rhetoric reserved for politicians seeking higher office.

“Let us agree that we will not return to business as usual. No, returning to normal is not the answer. Let us agree to begin a new era of partnership, a new era of commitment to do what is right together,” she said. “Let us agree to make history, to break ground, to shatter society’s self-imposed glass ceilings — and that is exactly what we should do for the people of New York.”

Richard Azzopardi, Cuomo’s former senior adviser, who continues to work as the former governor’s spokesman, responded to James’s remarks on Twitter on Wednesday.

“As I’ve said, it should raise serious red flags that the AG and her staff duck every time specific questions about omissions and inaccuracies in the AG’s report are raised,” Azzopardi said. “The public deserves specific answers from the AG as to the credibility of her report — especially while she mulls a run for governor.”

James’s reference to glass ceilings seemed particularly telling given the fact that she’s the state’s first Black woman to be elected as attorney general and would be the first Black female governor if she runs for the job and is elected.

In her time as the state’s top law enforcement official, James has probed former President Donald Trump, the National Rifle Association, and, most notably Cuomo, who resigned last month in the wake of her blockbuster report that shed light on several allegations of sexual harassment against him.

Cuomo, his surrogates and his attorney Rita Glavin have attacked the report, suggesting James’ motivations for releasing it are political, but for weeks they’ve been unable to provoke a response from James. That changed Wednesday.

James said she’s no longer going to “take the high road” when it comes to attacks from Cuomo loyalists and drew a sharp contrast between her probe and the investigation Cuomo launched when he was attorney general into former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

“I appointed independent investigators from outside of my office because I thought that was the best thing to do,” she said. “Let’s compare what he did to what I did, or I should say, to what my office did.

“My office began this investigation based on a lawful referral from the governor,” she continued. “By contrast, Mr. Cuomo did not wait for such a referral when he investigated then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. My office appointed outside, independent investigators. By contrast, Mr. Cuomo used his own staff.”

Cuomo and his surrogates have suggested James’ report was tailored to make the biggest political impact possible in order to fuel a run for governor and have pointed to yet-to-be released transcripts and records from her probe as important pieces of evidence that have yet to come to light publicly.

A spokesperson for James has said interview transcripts from witnesses would be released when the five district attorneys mulling criminal charges against Cuomo complete their probes.

Aside from James and Williams, Gov. Hochul, who was sworn in as Cuomo’s replacement, has already announced she’s running for reelection. Mayor de Blasio has also repeatedly suggested he’s interested in launching a campaign, and Rep. Tom Suozzi, who represents Queens and Long Island, is mulling a run as well.

When asked Wednesday about the prospect of James or Williams in Albany’s Executive Mansion, de Blasio declined to delve into much detail.

“I know all of the candidates and I respect them all,” he said. “I don’t think this is the time for comparisons.”

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