Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, announced Thursday that she would end her campaign for governor and run for re-election, a surprising move that changed the career of the high-profile governor and further solidified the position of Governor Kathy. Hochul.
Ms. James had just entered the race in late October, on the heels of her office’s devastating report on allegations of sexual harassment against former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, which led to her resignation. She was immediately treated as one of the top contenders, driven by her track record and her storied bid to become the country’s first black female governor.
But recent opinion polls had shown James trailing Hochul, the state’s first female governor, by double digits among Democratic primary voters. She was significantly behind the governor in fundraising and had fought to secure the high-profile endorsement of the politicians and unions who generally help crown winners in New York, despite her years in New York politics. city and state.
“I have come to the conclusion that I must continue my job as attorney general,” Ms. James, a Democrat, wrote in a statement just six weeks after entering the race. He said he wanted to “finish the job” on several “major investigations and cases” under his purview.
The announcement came the day it emerged that Ms. James’s office intended to subpoena former President Donald J. Trump to testify in a civil fraud investigation.
Ms. James, whose office is also involved in the criminal investigation being conducted by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., is seeking to question Trump under oath on January 7 as part of his separate civil investigation. about your business practices. He also continues to litigate a well-followed case against the National Rifle Association, as well as lawsuits involving Facebook, Google, Amazon, and the New York Police Department, and is investigating a seven-figure settlement on a book that Mr. Cuomo wrote as governor.
New York bars candidates from running for two state offices at once, so Ms. James would have had to give up a relatively secure job as attorney general to continue running for governor.
Her allies argued that Ms. James really enjoys her current position. Ultimately, it seems she didn’t want to give that up because of the rigors of a different campaign she wasn’t sure of winning, against a sitting governor with whom she had no overwhelming disagreements.
“Tish James loves what she does, she is a very passionate person, she has a lot of respect for Governor Hochul,” said Alan Rubin, a New York City lobbyist who endorsed Ms. James’ candidacy. “It wasn’t, you could clearly say: ‘I’m definitely here because I don’t agree with this person’s policies, I don’t like them.’
Ms. Hochul, who was promoted to lieutenant governor after Cuomo’s resignation, was already the first seed in the race. But Ms. James’s departure paved their way further, as several Democrats who had stood by or supported Ms. James, including Mr. Rubin, signaled that they now intended to support the governor.
“Kathy has accomplished more in four months than many of her predecessors in an entire period,” said Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the vote-rich Brooklyn Democratic Party chairperson.
She added that Ms. Hochul was “the best choice to lead our state through recovery, and she will have the support of Brooklyn as she continues to lead the way as our first Governor.”
While Ms. Hochul still faces energetic challenges from the right and left, including a possible candidacy from Mayor Bill de Blasio, she noted Thursday that she was already focused on the November general election. Long Island Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin is considered the leading Republican candidate.
In recent weeks, some supporters and potential supporters of Ms. James had grown increasingly skeptical about the trajectory of her campaign, as Ms. Hochul continued to outperform her in public polls and aggressively fundraise.
An elected official who had initial conversations with James’s team about an endorsement noted that her team’s following seemed to decline over the past week. The endorsement never got together.
And a state senator said colleagues in Albany, even some who share his ideological perspective, had been hesitant to back James, given Hochul’s influence during the state’s annual legislative season and the redistricting process that once takes place. in a decade.
Ms. James held discussions with about a half dozen of her closest advisers on Wednesday and made the decision to leave that day, according to several people with direct knowledge of the conversations, they were granted anonymity to discuss internal developments. His first call to announce his decision Thursday was to Ms. Hochul, two of those people said.
Ms. Hochul later said that she would support Ms. James’s re-election campaign and hoped “to have her on the ballot as we head to the November election together.”
The move caught others within Ms. James’s campaign by surprise. In about the last week, offers had been spread for several high-level jobs and more campaign events were in the works, according to someone with direct knowledge of the activities who was granted anonymity to discuss the private plans.
Several allies of Ms. James strongly dispute the idea that she exited the race over money, sponsorship or polling concerns in the early stages, pointing to her record of challenging race wins in the past.
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“Tish would have won the most union support, I am convinced of that,” said John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union, which had supported Ms James. “But with Tish out of the way, the path for Kathy Hochul to win is much clearer.”
Ms. James also faced significant competition for her New York City base: Jumaane D. Williams, a New York City and Brooklyn public defender, threatened to cut off parts of the coalition she hoped to build, and Mr. de Blasio could have done it. it diverted some of the entrenched Brooklyn voters he’d been counting on. Brooklyn represents the largest voting bloc in most Democratic primaries across the state.
Many prominent left leaders believed that the progressive left would choose between Ms. James and Mr. Williams; Your exit from the race may help Mr. Williams shore up new endorsements.
Williams lost the lieutenant governor race to Hochul in 2018 by 6.6 percentage points, although a race against a sitting governor is likely to be much steeper.
Long Island Rep. Thomas Suozzi, meanwhile, is trying to cut off Ms. Hochul’s position in the suburbs.
Ms. James’s exit from the race is a surprising coda for a fall campaign shaped by a frenzy of political activity. In the weeks leading up to her long-awaited announcement, she traveled the state, addressing Democratic groups and pondering her options in public and private, even as Cuomo made it clear that he would seek to undermine her if she ran. Meanwhile, her allies compared her national fundraising potential to that of Stacey Abrams, who is running again for governor of Georgia, and made several prominent political hires.
But even during that period, there were signs of indecision.
“It was a very long process to get to the point where it was something that she believed she really wanted to do,” Rubin said. “It was not an easy decision.”
His announcement, when it finally made it, struck many political observers as disjointed: Shortly after he posted a video, it was overshadowed by a press conference on legal issues surrounding Cuomo and then by the 2021 municipal elections.
She caused a sensation at a major political conference in Puerto Rico, began her search for a running mate, and headed to California to raise funds, but in recent weeks, James has kept a relatively modest public campaign schedule, as Politico noted Wednesday. . . And some potential rivals and her allies had silently wondered if she would really go ahead with a career.
In the race for attorney general, James’ announcement quickly began to clear the field that had grown while running for governor. Westchester State Senator Shelley Mayer immediately stepped down and supported her. State Senator Michael Gianaris, a left-wing Democrat from Queens who had been considering a nomination, said he, too, would back the incumbent.
Other candidates, including Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, former federal prosecutor Daniel S. Goldman and Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney, had yet to comment.
Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed to reporting.