Just days after the surprise announcement that she will vie for reelection, New York Attorney General Letitia James has already decimated the Democratic field.
Hours after James quit the governor’s race late Thursday, AG candidates Shelley Mayer, a Westchester state senator, and former prosecutor Daniel Goldman both announced they wouldn’t challenge her.
Then on Sunday, Zephyr Teachout — a professor who was James’ closest competitor in the 2018 Democratic primary — quit and threw her support behind the incumbent.
Finally, early Monday Assemblymember Clyde Vanel (D-Queens) and Maria Vullo, a law professor and ex-state commissioner, both bowed out of the AG’s race. That cleared James’ path, save for any unexpected challengers, to being her party’s nominee in next year’s election.
Political observers noted that James’ re-entry changed the political calculus for the other candidates, leaving them with few realistic routes to victory.
“Running a hopeless race and losing it doesn’t endear you to anyone. If you want to, down the road, run for something, the memory of having run a vanity campaign doesn’t encourage campaign contributors or possible endorsers,” said Kenneth Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College.
He added, “You become a joke, so I think they’re just facing reality. The question would be why anyone would stay in.”
Reasons, and Money, ‘Evaporated’
All of the Democratic candidates who left the race said they supported James’ continued work in the office — including her investigation of former President Donald Trump’s family business.
“Tish has been a tireless leader for New York as our Attorney General, including in the fight for reproductive rights,” said Vullo, who previously served as commissioner of the state Department of Financial Services. “I greatly admire the work Tish has done as attorney general and she has my full and unwavering support for her re-election.”
Other Democrats reportedly interested in the race, including Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, have been silent since James reentered the race. A spokesperson for Gonzalez didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Sherrill told THE CITY that it would be extremely difficult for any other Democratic candidates to match James’ fundraising ability and name recognition after years of holding city- and state-wide positions.
Her office’s investigations into Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace after James’ report found he sexually harassed multiple women, and of course Trump have earned hr national prominence.
The short-lived AG candidates all “entered under the assumption that Tish James wasn’t running. The rationale for that candidacy evaporated. I think they would have trouble raising any money. I think they would’ve had great trouble getting on the ballot,” Sherrill said.
Three Republicans are running for attorney general: Joseph Holland, a lawyer and former Department of Housing and Community Renewal commissioner; Michael Henry, a commercial litigator from Queens; and John Sarcone, a Hudson Valley attorney.
Holland’s platform remains unclear, but Sacrone and Henry are running with the Republican playbook that helped the party make modest gains in 2021: Bashing the state’s “one-party rule” under Democrats, championing public safety and arguing that New York has become too liberal.
“I wanted to run against [James’] abysmal record, her record of supporting criminals over police,” Sarcone told THE CITY. “At the end of the day, Democrats or Republicans, it’s not about party lines or loyalties. It’s about public safety and how people feel today than they did three years ago.”
Meanwhile, James’ exit proved a boon for all the other Democrats in the governor’s race. Long Island’s Rep. Tom Suozzi said that James leaving is a sign that voters want a moderate governor.
City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and likely candidate Mayor Bill de Blasio both have one less progressive candidate to worry about. And Gov. Kathy Hochul is now the only candidate in the race with a statewide platform as she looks to raise $25 million, a haul that her competitors may have difficulty matching.