A day after Public Advocate Jumaane Williams's Sept. 28 announcement that he had formed an exploratory committee to consider a run for Governor, State Attorney General Letitia James broadly hinted she might enter the race in a speech to a prominent civic group.
The dueling expressions of interest by two of the state's most-prominent black elected officials seemed an early attempt to stake out territory and line up support from portions of their common voting bases: African-American residents, particularly in Brooklyn, and progressives, although Mr. Williams is considered further left politically than Ms. James.
Could Benefit Hochul
If both sought the Democratic nomination, it could work to the advantage of Governor Hochul, who declared her interest in seeking a full term at the time she succeeded Governor Cuomo in late August after he resigned rather than facing impeachment.
Mr. Williams, who was largely unknown outside New York City when he challenged Ms. Hochul for Lieutenant Governor three years ago, made a surprisingly strong showing then, losing to the incumbent by just 6 points despite her being on the ticket with Mr. Cuomo, who defeated his primary opponent, actress Cynthia Nixon, by more than 30 points.
The Governor had good reason to muster his forces to help Ms. Hochul in that race: Mr. Williams, who was then a Brooklyn City Councilman, had made clear that if he was elected, he intended as Lieutenant Governor to serve as a check on Mr. Cuomo's power. His running so well in that race propelled him to his subsequent victory in a special election the following year to succeed Ms. James as Public Advocate.
She had won the race the previous November to replace Eric Schneiderman, who had resigned as Attorney General in May 2018 hours after several women with whom he had been involved accused him of being physically abusive during their relationships.
His Case vs. Hochul
In announcing his considering another run against Ms. Hochul, Mr. Williams said the questionable behavior committed by Mr. Cuomo that had since spring 2020—ranging from sexual harassment of much-younger staffers to questionable actions taken during the coronavirus pandemic that included allowing hospitals to send elderly patients with the coronavirus whom they had stabilized back to their nursing homes and underreporting the number of those patients who died from the virus—validated the platform he ran on for Lieutenant Governor.
He accused Ms. Hochul of being not nearly aggressive enough in her old job when it came to criticizing her since-disgraced old boss.
The following day, Ms. James, speaking before the Association for a Better New York, first hinted she, too, was considering a gubernatorial run, then reminded her audience that it was her probe of the sexual-harassment allegations against Mr. Cuomo that paved the way for his abrupt resignation.
She began her speech by noting that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had spoken to the group while considering a run for Mayor and now was the overwhelming favorite to be elected to the job in November. Turning her remarks to herself, she said, "Who knows?" drawing laughter from the crowd.
Hits Back at Cuomo
She quickly turned serious, referring to recent attempts by the former Governor and his lawyer, Rita Glavin, to discredit the finding that he was guilty of improper conduct toward 11 women by two veteran attorneys, employment-discrimination specialist Anne L. Clark and former Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim, whom she had tapped to conduct the investigation.
"Since that report came out," Ms. James said, "the former Governor has spent a lot of energy criticizing it and me. Until now I have chosen to take the high road. I have chosen not to respond in detail. But that changes today."
She noted that as vocal as the former Governor had been since leaving office about how he was falsely maligned and that the investigators had left out facts that would have hurt the credibility of some key accusers, "he has never taken responsibility for his own conduct. He has never taken responsibility for how his behavior affected our state government."
She also contrasted her handling of the probe with how Mr. Cuomo, when he was State Attorney General in 2007, conducted one into whether then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer had misused the State Police in an effort to politically damage then-Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno.
He Suffers in Comparison
"My office began this investigation based on a lawful referral from the Governor," she told the ABNY audience. "By contrast, Mr. Cuomo did not wait for such a referral when he investigated then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. My. office appointed outside, independent investigators. By contrast, Mr. Cuomo used his own staff."
Rich Azzopardi, Mr. Cuomo's former Press Secretary who has continued to serve as his spokesman with both men off the public payroll, responded, "As I've said, it should raise serious red flags that the AG and her staff duck every time specific questions about omissions and inaccuracies in the AG's report are raised. The public deserves specific answers from the AG as to the credibility of her report--especially while she mulls a run for Governor."
There has been some speculation that Mr. Cuomo, who still can use $18 million he raised for a planned run for a fourth term as Governor, might enter the race at some point, although several continuing investigations by state and Federal officials could complicate, if not upend, such a bid. Mayor de Blasio has continued to hint at a possible run for the job as well, although his declining popularity in the city and the proven dislike for him in other parts of the state would make his chances meager at best.
But the possibility of both Ms. James and Mr. Williams running—and with motives that might not be the same—were what had the local political world buzzing.
'Hochul, Tish Front-Runners'
Political consultant George Arzt, who said both officials, as well as Mr. de Blasio, had attended both the Bronx Democratic Party's dinner Sept. 29 at Marina Del Rey and the Brooklyn Democrats' breakfast the following morning at Junior's, said that even if Mr. Williams ran, "I think that everyone looks upon Hochul and Tish as the two front-runners" if Ms. James becomes a candidate.
He said the Attorney General, who ironically was elected three years ago with strong support from Mr. Cuomo, had raised her profile with the investigation that had a devastating impact on his political career. While Mr. Williams is also better known statewide because of his strong run for Lieutenant Governor, and in the city after two-plus years as Public Advocate, Mr. Arzt said he did not see him winning the Democratic nomination.
But, he added, if he entered the race, "He would spoil things, at least in Brooklyn, for Tish, but Tish would still get a large chunk of the black vote."
One Democratic strategist, Tyquana Henderson-Rivers, who heads Queens-based Connective Strategies, said she didn't think Mr. Williams would refrain from running even if it became clear that he and Ms. James would be cutting into each other's bases enough to ensure that Governor Hochul got her party's nomination.
Running to Build DSA?
"Part of Tish James's pathway to victory is consolidating the African-America vote," Ms. Henderson-Rivers, a top adviser to Ray McGuire's mayoral campaign earlier this year, said in a Sept. 30 phone interview. "Jumaane Williams is gonna do what he's gonna do regardless of what Tish James does. There is some crossover with ethnicity, but with philosophy, Jumaane is much further to the left."
She noted that the Democratic Socialists of America, who helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez post her stunning upset of Congressman Joe Crowley—at the time the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives—in 2018, after backing two candidates for City Council in June who gained the party's nomination, planned to run a fuller slate for State Senate and Assembly races next year as well as smaller offices.
"I don't think Jumaane really cares if Hochul wins" because he and Ms. James split the African-American vote, Ms. Henderson-Rivers said. "I think Jumaane is running to organize the left in a statewide year. The DSA is trying to gain ground statewide; he can help them build their movement."
While Mr. Williams benefited from his strong run in a losing cause for Lieutenant Governor, the reaction among some Democrats would almost surely be less positive if he wound up failing in his bid for Governor and costing Ms. James the nomination as well.
Asked about that prospect, Ms. Henderson-Rivers replied, "Do I believe that Jumaane wants to be Governor? No. Activists don't usually want to govern."