ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — Confirming wide speculation that she would make a bid for the state’s top elected office, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced her run for governor Friday afternoon.
James, a 63-year-old Brooklyn native, released a short video to accompany the announcement.
“I’ve spent my career guided by a simple principle: Stand up to the powerful on behalf of the vulnerable,” she said in the clip. “To be a force for change.”
The announcement makes it official that James will square off against the Buffalo-bred Governor Kathy Hochul, a fellow Democrat; the two are expected to be top contenders.
One incident described in the report, accusations that Cuomo groped an executive assistant under her blouse at the Executive Mansion in December 2020, led Thursday to the filing of a misdemeanor criminal charge against Cuomo in Albany City Court.
Through his attorney, Rita Glavin, Cuomo denied the allegation.
James quickly responded with a statement.
“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," she wrote. “The criminal charges brought today against Mr. Cuomo for forcible touching further validate the findings in our report.”
In her campaign announcement video, James alluded to that work but without mentioning Cuomo by name.
“I’ve held accountable those who mistreat and harass women in the workplace,” she said, “no matter how powerful the offenders.”
In a separate Cuomo-centered investigation, James reported that the former governor’s administration underreported nursing home deaths from Covid-19 — twice as many residents had died than were included in state data.
James’ track record also includes suing to dissolve the National Rifle Association, brokering opioid claim settlements against pharmaceutical companies that won payouts as high as $230 million, and suing Amazon over its worker-safety standards during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the Amazon ongoing litigation, James’ office accused the e-commerce giant of failing to keep its employees safe at two New York distribution centers, where the essential workers continued reporting for duty during the earliest, most uncertain days of the pandemic. Amazon fired one employee, and issued a final written warning to another, in retaliation after the workers publicly protested their conditions, according to James’ lawsuit.
New York hasn't elected a Republican governor since 2002 — a record James did not appear worried about in her 1 1/2-minute video when she touted her role in dozens of legal headaches for the party's figurehead, former President Donald Trump.
“I’ve sued the Trump administration 76 times,” James said. “But who’s counting?”
If her run is successful, James would be the country’s first Black female governor.
“To say this is historic in nature is an understatement,” L. Joy Williams, a political consultant and head of the Brooklyn chapter of the NAACP, told Gothamist. “She has the story and the history that would truly make this the people’s governor.”
The city’s current public advocate, progressive Jumaane Williams, is an anticipated competitor, as is state Representative Tom Suozzi, a moderate Democrat from Long Island, as the party begins to gear up for its 2022 primary.
James launched a new campaign website on Friday. At publish time, the site had crashed from exceeding its bandwidth.
“I’m running for governor of New York because I have the experience, vision, and courage to take on the powerful on behalf of all New Yorkers,” James wrote on Twitter.
Critics of James say she did not do enough to investigate the March 2020 death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died a week after Rochester police officers held down his naked body on the street and placed a spit hood over his head. Following James’ investigation, a grand jury did not find that there was enough evidence to prosecute.
Others criticizing James — and allied with Cuomo — have said that, with her eyes on a gubernatorial run, the attorney general’s investigations into Cuomo were politically motivated.
“The fact that the AG — as predicted — is about to announce a run for governor is lost on no one,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said Thursday night.
James attended New York City public schools and received her bachelor’s degree from the City University of New York’s Lehman College. She then graduated from Howard University School of Law, and became barred in New York in 1989.
The former Legal Aid public defender was voted in as New York City’s public advocate in 2013, where she served until she was sworn in as attorney general in January of 2019.