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Jay Jacobs discusses AG James' exit from race for governor

Jay Jacobs
Jay Jacobs
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Jay Jacobs
Jay Jacobs

New York State Attorney General Letita James is dropping her campaign for governor and running for re-election . She kicked off her bid for governor in October, after leading an investigation into sexual harassment claims against then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned under pressure in August. James said Thursday that she has important cases and investigations to complete as attorney general.

Governor Kathy Hochul is seeking a full term in 2022. The Democratic primary field for governor also includes New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi.

But New York State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs is backing Hochul, and he spoke with WAMC’s Ian Pickus.

Were you surprised by the news of Letitia James’ decision not to keep running for governor?

Well, I had expected that at some point in time, each of the candidates would reassess and reevaluate their decision to run. I know that Tish James was very concerned about divisive primary, and she was very concerned that we would not have full unity going into the November election. So to say completely surprised, no. But of course, I didn't necessarily expect it today.

Do you have any inside knowledge or have you had any conversations with other Democrats about why she ultimately reached this decision?

Well, I talked with her this morning before the decision was announced. And again, I think that a very big part of this was, you know, we all learned a lesson in 2021, about how tough an election 2022 will be. So I think with that in mind, it's incumbent upon all of us Democrats, to put aside our personal interests and do things for the greater good of the party. I think that's what Tish James did today. And I admire that. And I applaud it. And I thank her for it.

In your mind now, is Governor Kathy Hochul the clear frontrunner to win a full term next year?

Well, yes, of course, I would say that she's the clear frontrunner, I don't know how you beat an incumbent Democrat, first female governor of the state of New York, who's doing a great job and is in the center, progressive part of our party. She's a centrist, a moderate, as she refers to it, a Biden Democrat. I just don't know how you make an argument that you might be better as the nominee than she is. So you know, I see her as getting the nomination. And if she gets the nomination, she's going to win the election and be elected governor.

What's your sense of the status now of the relationship between Hochul and Attorney General James, given the fact that for the last six weeks, they've been running against each other?

Yeah, what you know, the good thing about that is there was no tension, there was no animosity going into it. I think both of them dealt with the competition in a very classy way. And I think that there's no damage whatsoever. And I look forward to both of them, hopefully, running together on a ticket.

A number of candidates have been running for Attorney General now, thinking that James would be vacating that office. Do you expect that there will be a primary of some kind for attorney general now that she's gone back to that race?

I would doubt it because I think at the end of the day, in the Democratic primary, James will be unbeatable. I don't think anybody would come close. It would be a fool's errand, if you will. And I don't think it's going to

Assuming what you think will happen does happen and Governor Hochul is elected to a full term and James is re-elected to a second term. Is there a chance that Governor Hochul will have to be looking over her shoulder now, knowing that at some point, Attorney General James did want to be governor?

Well, you know, I would have to say that no matter what the scenario, the governor always is looking over their shoulder. Not just at the Attorney General, they've always got to make sure they're doing the job. Best way they possibly can, because in any political position, be a governor, senator, Congressman, whatever it may be, you've always got somebody that wants your job. That's just the nature of it.

Was this a six- week campaign and now aborted campaign by James bad for the Democratic Party?

Not to this point, it wasn't no. It would have been could have been, that had gone on longer, had gotten divisive and perhaps contentious, and used up a lot of resources. But to this point, no, I don't think there's any damage whatsoever.

Have you talked to Andrew Cuomo at all since his resignation?

Well, since he resigned, yes, I have but I have not spoken with him since October 4, which is the day that I endorsed Kathy Hochul, and I hadn't had many conversations with him prior, probably less than a handful, but, you know, I have not spoken to him since early October.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.