Attorney General Letitia James drops out of race for governor of New York

Saying she would focus on running for re-election instead, New York Attorney General Letitia James dropped out of the race for governor of the Empire State on Thursday.

"I have come to the conclusion that I must continue my work as attorney general," James said in a news release. "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 formally announced her candidacy on Oct. 29 in a video statement. 

She had entered the race as a formidable candidate for the Democratic nomination just months after issuing a damning report that drove Andrew Cuomo from office in a sexual harassment scandal.

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James, 63, is the first woman elected as New York’s attorney general and the first Black person to serve in the role. With a power base in New York City, she was poised to be a top threat to Gov. Kathy Hochul, who had been Cuomo’s lieutenant governor.

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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.

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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.

Hochul praised James for her work as AG. 

"All I can say is, I respect her tremendously. Always have," Hochul told reporters on Thursday afternoon. "This is a very bad day for Donald Trump and the NRA."

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.

FILE New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

FILE New York State Attorney General Letitia James. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

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

New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, who has already endorsed Hochul for the primary, said James put her party before her own interests back in 2018 and has done so again now.

"She united Democrats for the sake of the Party, which she again put over her own interests," Jacobs said in a statement. "I admire Tish James and look forward to working with her in her re-election for Attorney General."

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.

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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 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.

With the Associated Press