(CNN)New York Attorney General Letitia James entered the race for governor on Friday, kicking off a Democratic primary clash that will immediately pit the progressive favorite against moderate Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took office this summer following the resignation of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In a video announcement, James highlighted her New York roots as well as her work as attorney general and former New York City public advocate.
“I’ve spent my career guided by a simple principle: stand up to the powerful on behalf of the vulnerable, to be a force for change,” James said. “We can do this if we stand up and speak out together.”
The next gubernatorial election in New York will be held in November 2022. The Democratic primary is scheduled for next June, creating a tight timeline for candidates to build their campaign organizations and win support from key groups, like organized labor, and increasingly influential junior party lawmakers.
James, 63, has been weighing a run at New York’s top job for months and could become the first Black woman in American history to be elected governor of any state.
With James officially launching her campaign, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams expected to formally enter the race soon and New York Rep. Tom Suozzi, a moderate from Long Island, rumored to be considering a bid, New York Democrats face the prospect of a combative and expensive primary that is likely to highlight the deep divisions among the party’s moderate and progressive factions.
For their progressive allies, the prospect of James and Williams vying for the same position — along with political support and campaign contributions — is an uncomfortable one. Both are Brooklyn natives who have cultivated strong loyalties from New York City’s liberal leaders and organizations like the Working Families Party, which, along with other activist-aligned organizations, is keen to elect a progressive after a decade of warring with Cuomo. Williams, should he move forward, is expected to run to the left of James and lean on relationships he forged with progressive groups during and after his 2018 Democratic primary campaign for lieutenant governor — which he lost to Hochul in a surprisingly close race.
Sochie Nnaemeka, the Working Families Party New York state director, said in a statement welcoming James to the primary that the organization looked forward to the “robust debate and conversation” ahead.
“Since she was first elected as a Working Families Party candidate nearly twenty years ago, Tish James has been a courageous fighter for everyday New Yorkers,” Nnaemeka said. “We expect that Tish will campaign with a clear progressive vision for New York, championing issues such as quality housing for all, green jobs, universal child care, government ethics, and ending mass incarceration.”
James, who has won elections at the city and state level, rose to national prominence earlier this year when her investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo revealed a “pattern” of inappropriate behavior that led to his resignation soon after. James’ office also returned a damaging probe that found the state Department of Health under the Democratic governor had undercounted the number of Covid-19 deaths among nursing home residents during the height of the pandemic in the state.
The beginning of James’ campaign comes less than a day after a criminal complaint alleging forcible touching, a sex crime, was filed against Cuomo in Albany, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by CNN. A lawyer for the disgraced former governor denied the allegations and Cuomo has, in response to multiple public accusations of sexual harassment, insisted he never acted inappropriately.
In a statement Thursday, James described the charges against Cuomo as a vindication of her report, which Cuomo has tried to discredit as a political hit job.
“From the moment my office received the referral to investigate allegations that former Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women, we proceeded without fear or favor,” James said. “The criminal charges brought today against Mr. Cuomo for forcible touching further validate the findings in our report.”
James has won the admiration of Democrats in New York and around the country for her aggressive action against the National Rifle Association, which she is seeking to dissolve as part of a lawsuit alleging rampant corruption among its senior leaders. James’ office is also investigating the Trump Organization and its officers in a wide-ranging probe to determine whether it improperly inflated the value of assets to obtain loans and insurance or lowered the values to pay lower taxes.
Early polling suggests that Hochul will begin the contest with a modest advantage. In a Marist survey from earlier this month, Hochul led in a three-way race with 44% against James and Williams, who came in at 28% and 15%, respectively. Thirteen percent of the registered Democrats polled were undecided.
Marist also tested a four-way hypothetical matchup by adding Cuomo, who retains $18 million in campaign funds. Hochul dropped to 36%, James remained in second with 24% and the disgraced former governor finished third, with 19% to Williams’ 9%. Cuomo is unlikely to mount what would be a stunning comeback attempt so soon, but he has accused James of running a politically motivated probe against him and could deploy his war chest to aid another candidate.