James wins N.Y. attorney general Democratic primary

Sep 13, 2018

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James
Credit File photo

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James won a four-way Democratic primary for attorney general in New York on Thursday in a race that was a competition over who could best use the office to antagonize President Donald Trump.

James, 59, would become the first black woman to hold a statewide elected office in New York if she prevails in the general election, where she will be heavily favored. Trump nemesis Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, abruptly resigned from the post in May amid allegations he physically abused women he dated.

James defeated a deep field of fellow Democrats: U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout and former Hillary Clinton adviser Leecia Eve.

New York's attorney general has long had an unusual role as a regulator of Wall Street and an occasional prosecutor of the rich and powerful. The office also recently opened an investigation of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. But in this contest, Trump emerged as the common foe among all the candidates.

"The law has been the firmest pillar of our democracy and right now our democracy is under attack and when you're under attack as I have consistently said, you got to stand up and you got to fight back, but you got to fight back with a leader, and that's me," James, a Brooklyn native and Howard University law graduate, said on the campaign trail.

The winner in November will inherit several pending lawsuits filed by the state that challenge Trump's policies and accuse his charitable foundation of breaking the law.

James faces little-known Republican attorney Keith Wofford in the general election in November.

James served as New York City's elected public advocate after a decade on the city council and stints as a public defender and assistant attorney general. She was an early favorite in a race that tightened over the summer, picking up endorsements from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and several powerful unions. Rapper Nicki Minaj plugged her on Twitter the night before the election.

As public advocate, James said she transformed the office from its traditional role as an ombudsman on issues of public concern to a "mini-legal services slash attorney general's office."

She lobbied for police officers to wear body cameras and for special prosecutors to be appointed in police misconduct cases. Her office maintains a list of the "worst landlords" in the city and has pushed to expand tenant protections.

If she wins in November, James would also become the first woman elected attorney general, though not the first to hold the job.

New York's current attorney general, Democrat Barbara Underwood, was appointed to replace Schneiderman. She declined to run for election.