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Letitia James Wins Attorney General Race, Defeating 3 Rivals

Letitia James Wins Attorney General Race, Defeating 3 Rivals

Letitia James became the first black woman to win a major party statewide nomination on Thursday, defeating three rivals in New York’s Democratic primary for attorney general.With her win, Ms. James, 59, the New York City public advocate, has positioned herself as a prominent face of resistance to the policies of President Trump, a role…


Letitia James became the first black woman to win a major party statewide nomination on Thursday, defeating three rivals in New York’s Democratic primary for attorney general.

With her win, Ms. James, 59, the New York City public advocate, has positioned herself as a prominent face of resistance to the policies of President Trump, a role that the New York attorney general’s office has embraced since Mr. Trump took office.

With Democrats outnumbering Republicans in New York State by a margin of more than two to one, Ms. James will be heavily favored in November against the Republican candidate, Keith Wofford, who ran unopposed. If Ms. James wins, she would be the first black woman to assume statewide office, just five years after becoming the first black woman elected to citywide office in New York.

Ms. James beat out three other candidates who would also have made history if they had been elected as attorney general: Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, who was seeking to be the first openly gay holder of statewide office; and two women who would have been the first to be elected to the position: Leecia Eve, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton; and Zephyr Teachout, a law professor.

[Here arethe latest resultsfor all the primary races in New York.]

That there was a Democratic primary for attorney general came as a big surprise to everyone, including the man who had held the office, Eric T. Schneiderman, who appeared to be on cruise control toward a third term.

But on May 7, just hours after The New Yorker reported that four women had accused Mr. Schneiderman ofchoking, spitting at and slapping them,he resigned his position, sending shock waves throughout the country and immediately setting off a scramble in New York as to who would replace him.

The New York attorney general was already one of the most powerful law enforcement positions in the country, responsible for overseeing Wall Street, the economic engine of the country. Mr. Schneiderman raised the profile of the office enormously bymounting a series of challenges to the policies of President Trump.

Ms. James became the front-runner to be appointed to replace Mr. Schneiderman. As an attorney who had run the attorney general’s Brooklyn office and who used the public advocate’s office tofile multiple lawsuits against the city, Ms. James was seen by some as an ideal candidate.

But as the process to replace Mr. Schneiderman continued, editorial boards around the city said it was starting to look like aback-room deal, especially when Barbara Underwood, the first woman to serve as solicitor general, was willing to fill the remaining eight months of Mr. Schneiderman’s term, and announced that she had no interest in running for the position.

Ms. James said she was no longer interested in being appointed to the position but would run for the office, and Ms. Underwoodbecame the first womanto hold the office.

The four-way contest grew heated after the four candidates began debating aboutwho is most independent from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Ms. James, the front-runner, had aligned her campaign with Mr. Cuomo’s, accepting his endorsement and help in fund-raising and in getting the endorsement of the State Democratic Party. But that support had come at a cost.

Ms. James, who is considered politically progressive,turned down the line of the Working Families Party, the third-party group with whom she won her first election.

Sources say Mr. Cuomo pressured Ms. James to turn down the nomination after the W.F.P. endorsed his opponent, the actress and activist Cynthia Nixon. Although they acknowledge discussing the nomination, both Ms. James and Mr. Cuomo deny there was any pressure for her to turn down the nomination.

But the decision was seen as an indication of Mr. Cuomo’s influence over Ms. James, something she strongly and repeatedly denied, characterizing herself in the words of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, as “unbought and unbossed.”

She said that fund-raising has always been difficult for her as a black woman and that her focus was on the attaining the major party nomination. She believed she would reconcile with the W.F.P. once she won the nomination. And the W.F.P. endorsed both Ms. James and Ms. Teachout, saying they would back the person that won the Democratic nomination.

Ms. James’s rivals repeatedly attacked her relationship with Mr. Cuomo and questioned her ability to be independent, especially given the spate of corruption convictions in Albany, includingtwo high-ranking aides to Mr. Cuomo.

Ms. James also committed a few gaffes, or miscalculations, along the way. She told The New York Times that it was “critically important that I not be known as the Sheriff on Wall Street,” — a nickname earned by Eliot L. Spitzer for prosecuting financial fraud, which is seen as a critical function of the New York attorney general given that the Trump administration has made deregulation a priority.

Ms. James also defended Mr. Cuomo from remarks that some considered sexist.

Ms. Teachout, who surprised Mr. Cuomo in 2014 when she received 34 percent of the vote in a campaign without much money, used Ms. James’s decision to not seek the W.F.P. line to stake out her role as an independent. She highlighted her professional experience writing about corruption and proposing legal strategies to fight Mr. Trump. She joined with Ms. Nixon and Jumaane Williams to form a ticket they believed was based on insurgency.

By the last debate, it was clear that Ms. Teachout was surging as shecame under attackby her opponents for saying that she doesn’t accept donations from Wall Street firms, corporate political action committees or limited liability corporations when she does take money from individuals in those fields.

Ms. Teachout was also criticized for just recently joining the New York State bar; being reprimanded by the North Carolina bar for moving out of state while handling a death penalty case and growing up on a farm in Vermont — with critics implying that she was out of touch with New York.

At the same time, Mr. Maloney, relying on $3.1 million that he had raised forhis congressional race, began spending on advertisements that focused on his being the state’s first openly gay congressman and raising three minority children with his husband.

Sensing a threat, the W.F.P. launched the largest amount of ad spending on the race by a party other than the candidate’s campaign, spending more than $250,000 on digital ads on Facebook, Pandora and Spotify, a half-million robocalls and over 200,000 texts to highlight Maloney’s voting record on legislation about bank deregulation and highlighting that he voted against President Barack Obama dozens of times.

Ms. Eve, in spite of her strong credentials as a former adviser to Mr. Cuomo and Hillary Clinton, and the name recognition associated with her father, Arthur O. Eve, a longtime Buffalo assemblyman, never gained traction with voters.

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