Additional reporting by Reuven Blau and Yoav Gonen
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is weighing a statewide campaign for attorney general if Letitia James leaves the seat to run for governor, eight people familiar with the matter told THE CITY.
In recent weeks, they say, Gonzalez has been making calls to his top supporters and elected officials to float a possible campaign in the 2022 race.
“He’s looking to run. He’s fishing around,” said a close ally of Gonzalez who has helped him raise campaign cash in the past.
Also sniffing out support are Queens DA Melinda Katz and state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), according to sources familiar with their activities.
Gonzalez served for years as a prosecutor in the Brooklyn DA’s office before ascending to the top job in 2016 following the death of his predecessor, Ken Thompson. The following year, Gonzalez became the first Latino to be elected as a district attorney in New York.
Sources said he has started booking meetings with influential elected officials at an annual conference in Puerto Rico next month, Somos el Futuro, where politicos and power brokers hold court and cut deals for the upcoming year.
And he has hinted publicly at greater ambitions.
“To this day, we’re underrepresented in so many aspects of government and business and media,” Gonzalez said at a Hispanic Heritage celebration his office hosted earlier this week. “This is our future and this is our chance to lead.”
‘Gearing Up for This Run’
One elected official said Gonzalez has been “calling to gauge whether there’s support” for him.
“He’s been gearing up for this AG run for some amount of time,” said one Brooklyn political insider. But “there’s a domino that needs to fall first.”
Support hinges on whether James challenges Gov. Kathy Hochul. The former lieutenant governor from Buffalo ascended to the top role two months ago after Andrew Cuomo resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal prompted by a report commissioned by James’ office.
Others said to be weighing a bid for Cuomo’s old job include Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
If James runs for governor, she’d have to vacate the attorney general’s office — a post she ran for and won in 2018 after domestic abuse allegations engulfed Eric Schneiderman, forcing him to resign.
Since assuming the Brooklyn DA post, Gonzalez has carved a reputation for taking progressive stances. He followed a trail blazed by Thompson, who turned the office into a national leader in reviewing past cases and overturning wrongful convictions.
Earlier this year, Gonzalez directed his office to dismiss hundreds of prostitution charges dating back to the 1970s and embarked on a legislative push on state lawmakers to expunge thousands of convictions related to sex work. His office has also dismissed thousands of marijuana cases.
A Gonzalez campaign advisor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“It would be tremendous having him as AG if the seat were to become vacant,” said Mark Meyer Appel, founder of The Bridge multicultural community center in Midwood, Brooklyn, and a donor to Gonzalez.
‘Free for All’
Before women who’d worked with Cuomo leveled sexual harassment accusations against him earlier this year, the three-term governor was gearing up to run for a fourth term in 2022. His resignation in August has reshuffled the board of New York politics, where heirs apparent usually claim dibs on rare openings of statewide seats.
James has hinted at aspirations to run for governor, but has not yet announced a decision on whether she’ll challenge Hochul. Cuomo has accused James of using her office’s investigation into his conduct as a pretext to elbow him out of the way for her own shot at the state’s top job.
If she were to wage a bid for governor, the Democratic primary for attorney general would be a “free for all,” said one Democratic political operative.
“It’s going to be wide open, with a lot of candidates,” the operative said.
If he runs, Gonzalez would have competition from Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor who competed in a primary against Cuomo in 2014 and unsuccessfully vied for the attorney general’s post in 2018. Teachout has already announced her intentions.
Meanwhile, Katz, who secured the Democratic primary win for Queens DA in 2019 by just 60 votes when she was borough president, is also considering a run for the statewide office, according to four sources familiar with the matter.
One source close to Katz told THE CITY Thursday that “she’s certainly going to be ready to run” if James vacates her position to run for governor.
“Melinda is the candidate to run against the DSA and more in alignment with the mainstream Democratic voters,” said the source, referencing the Democratic Socialists of America who backed soon-to-be councilmember Tiffany Cabán in the Queens DA race.
Gianaris, who heads the Senate Democrats’ campaign efforts, is also contemplating an AG campaign, pending James’ decision, according to people close to him. The Senate’s deputy majority leader has amassed a $3 million warchest for past attorney general runs that didn’t materialize and in his state Senate campaign account.
“Cuomo put his thumb on the scale for everything,” said one Democratic operative. “He kept everyone else down. Now everybody else is rising up.”