James wins Democratic primary for NY attorney general
NEW YORK — 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.
Underwood congratulated the candidates in a tweet before the polls closed for showing they “believe in the power of this office” and giving voters “a choice for the future.”
“After the events of this year, I hope it is clear to everyone that this office is the sum of all its staff,” Underwood tweeted. “I am so proud to be your AG.”
Trump’s lawyers have argued that the attorney general’s office was unfairly politicized under Underwood and Schneiderman.
The adversarial relationship dates back to 2012, when Schneiderman sued Trump University, claiming the school defrauded students. Trump settled litigation related to the school for $25 million, saying he was doing so only so he could keep his attention focused on national issues.
In defending the state’s lawsuit against the Trump Foundation, Trump’s lawyers said New York built its case on minor, unintentional bookkeeping violations and unnecessarily blocked the charity from shutting down simply so it could continue to assail it in court.
The legal sparring is likely to continue. The attorney general’s office has lawsuits pending against the Trump administration policies on health care, guns, immigration and the environment.
Wofford, who specializes in bankruptcy law, was unopposed in the Republican primary. He says his priorities are tackling political corruption and ensuring that the attorney general’s office is “truly independent.”