“I have come to the conclusion that I must continue my work as attorney general,” James said in a statement Thursday. “There are a number of important investigations and cases that are underway, and I intend to finish the job.”
James entered the race in late October, immediately becoming the leading challenger to moderate Gov. Kathy Hochul, the Democratic lieutenant governor who replaced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo after his resignation this summer in the midst of a sexual misconduct scandal. James, in her current capacity, had overseen an independent civil inquiry that found Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women and a “pattern” of inappropriate behavior and “toxic” culture in the governor’s office. Those findings were corroborated by a separate probe conducted at the direction of state lawmakers.
Cuomo and his team have spent the last few months arguing, without any clear evidence, that James’ probe was politically motivated and had sought to undermine allegations against the former governor by pointing James’ own political ambitions.
After launching her campaign, James had raised the eyebrows of New York politicos for only sporadically appearing on the trail. She had been critical of Hochul’s response to the recent Covid-19 surge in the state, advocating for a statewide mask mandate, but offered little more in the way of policy specifics. Her campaign website — which had disabled its connection to ActBlue, the fundraising channel, by mid-day Thursday — contained only a snippet of her initial announcement.
Despite the rumblings, her decision took operatives and allies off-guard. The James campaign was in touch with outside firms up until Thursday, a source familiar told CNN.
James, in seeking a second term as the state’s top law enforcement officer, has also upended the state attorney general primary, which includes law professor and anti-corruption advocate Zephyr Teachout, a progressive favorite who also ran in 2018, and Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who served as counsel to House Democrats during their first impeachment investigation against former President Donald Trump.
But the Democratic state attorney generals’ campaign arm was quick to back James after she announced her reelection plans.
“The Democratic Attorneys General Association is proud to support AG James for re-election as Attorney General,” DAGA communications director Geoff Burgan said. “She’s a battle-tested leader who has fought for consumers, working people, and those in need, and we’re excited that she’ll be continuing her work as New York’s Attorney General.”
James, now almost in her third year in office, has been at the helm of several high profile investigations.
Before her announcement Thursday that she was suspending her campaign, media reports broke that James is seeking to depose former President Donald Trump as part of a civil fraud investigation into the Trump Organization, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Her office has been investigating the Trump Organization and its officers in a wide-ranging probe to determine whether the company improperly inflated the value of assets on financial statements to obtain loans, insurance, and tax benefits, along with how employees were compensated.
James is separately looking into whether Cuomo used public resources for writing and promoting his book about the Covid-19 pandemic.
She also investigated nursing home deaths in New York and released a report in January that found that the state undercounted nursing home Covid-19-related deaths by about 50%.
James was first elected New York attorney general in 2018, the first Black person and woman to win statewide office.
A native Brooklynite, James was a former public defender and also worked in the Brooklyn regional office of the New York state attorney general’s office. She won her first election to the New York city council in 2003 and served 10 years there. She also served two stints as New York City’s public advocate, first elected to the job in 2013.
In New York, James’ decision to drop out before the turn of the year will be a boost to New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who could see progressive voters, especially in the city, turn to his campaign. It could also open up some space, potentially, for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has teased a run of his own, as progressive lawmakers and left-leaning unions that were backing James will now need to reconsider their options.
But the biggest beneficiary appears, for now, to be Hochul, who had already established a healthy lead in public polling of the contest and has a significant fundraising advantage over the field, which also includes moderate New York Rep. Tom Suozzi.
The next gubernatorial election in New York will be held in November 2022, with the Democratic primary scheduled for next June.
This story has been updated with additional details.