Attorney General James Has Work Cut Out For Her

By Alan S. Chartock | July 10, 2021

Let’s see if we can put ourselves in New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ head and figure out what she might be thinking right now. To begin with, let’s remember that in modern New York State politics, AG, short for Attorney General, is also short for Almost Governor. Let’s remember that Andrew Cuomo was attorney general before he became governor. Likewise, Eliot Spitzer was attorney general before he became governor. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to think that Letitia James might be next in line to accede to the governor’s office if Andrew fails. Now let’s stop kidding ourselves. We know that if she gets to that top office, she will be making all kinds of history. You can think what you want but you had better believe that she has her eye on the prize. There is, however, a big “but” in that proposition.

The reason why Ms. James has a shot at the top office is that Andrew Cuomo is said to be on the ropes. Some Assembly Democrats are thought to be anxious to impeach him and to stop him for running for office again. The Democratic leader of the Senate says that he ought to leave. That would mean that the office would be vacant and that James, who is thought to have played a lot of her cards correctly, would be the logical person to move up. There might be other candidates who would run in a primary but most people I talk to think that James would have some kind of lock on the nomination.

But a lot of New Yorkers still have fond thoughts about Andrew Cuomo. If the perception turns out to be that James forced Andrew from his perch, there will be a lot of people who might resent her and not vote for her. She has got to know that, especially since it is her office that is investigating Cuomo. If they move to bring charges against him, many people will certainly hold her responsible. So if you were her what would you do? There is no easy way out of the dilemma in which she finds herself. She could pull that old ruse and say that the trained professionals in the bureaucracy which she heads were responsible but there will be a lot of people who don’t buy that old canard.

Andrew understands that Letitia James is working up a full head of steam to take him on and he has said just that. If the James train continues to move forward, you can bet that Andrew or his surrogates will pull out all the stops. James cannot even think of running a primary against Andrew. That won’t work. She’d get clobbered. The only way she gets to be governor is if he is impeached. The guy to keep your eye on is Speaker Carl Heastie who is certainly no fool. The last person he wants to take on is “tough guy Andrew.” He could leave it to his subordinates in the Assembly to do the dirty work, but he certainly would have Andrew to contend with. With Heastie and James unlikely to go head to head with Andrew, it is unlikely that James would have any luck sailing to the state’s top office and she certainly knows that.

Now there is the possibility that the U.S. Justice Department might bring charges and prosecute Andrew because of the nursing home piece in all of this. But do we really think that United States Attorney General Merrick Garland will want to deal with this? I’m betting not. He’s just not that kind of guy. Letitia James, who I think would love to be governor, will have her work cut out for her. The question is, “Does she have the guts?”

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected].