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James Mum On Run For Governor, Defends Cuomo Investigation

Attorney General Tish James and former Attorney General Bob Abrams
Lucas Willard
New York State Attorney General Tish James spoke with former AG Bob Abrams at an event Thursday in Albany

Appearing in Albany Thursday night, New York State Attorney General Tish James did not directly answer questions about whether she is considering a run for governor. The Democrat also defended her report into allegations of sexual harassment against former Governor Andrew Cuomo.

James spoke to reporters after a public discussion with former State Attorney General Bob Abrams at the New York State Museum.

Following news reports that she has been discussing a run for New York governor, James did not confirm or deny seeking the position in 2022.

The Democrat said she would serve in her role as long as the people of the state would have her. When pressed, James added:

“My focus is on my work in the Office of New York State Attorney General. I enjoy serving in the Office of the New York State Attorney General, and it’s entirely up to the people of the state of New York.”

James gained stature following her report detailing allegations of sexual harassment against former Governor Andrew Cuomo, which the former governor and his allies call unfair and problematic.

Cuomo, on Twitter, called attention to an opinion piece by political ally, David Pikus. The op-ed published in Newsday accuses James of using the investigation for her own political gain, and likened Cuomo’s ouster to a coup.

James was questioned about the comments from Cuomo’s ally.

“Listen, I did my job. And I understand that there are individuals acting on behalf of the former governor of the great state of New York. Our work is concluded. The report speaks for itself. It was independent and I did what I had to do. And it’s over.”

The investigation and report detailing allegations from 11 women that preceded the resignation of Cuomo in August drew praise from Abrams, a former state Assemblyman who served as Attorney General from 1979 to 1993.

Abrams dismissed criticisms that the report was politically motivated.

“The investigation was launched at the request of the governor. The governor of the State of New York asked the attorney general to launch this investigation. The attorney general appointed two outstanding, independent, experienced lawyers and prosecutors with deep and rich prosecutorial and legal background. They worked for months. They were independent. And they compiled an impressive report which was widely acclaimed, universally acclaimed.”

Abrams, a longtime political ally of James, endorsed the Democrat in her 2018 campaign. WAMC asked Abrams if he would consider endorsing James in a run for governor in 2022.

Abrams said he hadn’t talked to James about her future political aspirations.

“I’m an admirer of hers and I would be curious to see whether she’s gonna run for re-election or another office. She’s a highly qualified person, she’s a pathbreaker. The first woman to be elected Attorney General in New York State’s history, the first woman of color to be elected attorney general. I’m in contact with attorneys general around the country and I know they think very highly of her.”

James wrote the foreword to Abrams’ memoir, which was the subject of Thursday’s conversation.

James was also asked by WAMC if her office is looking into a pattern of recent arrests of Black Lives Matter demonstrators in upstate cities.

In Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, several Black Lives Matter demonstrators have turned themselves in or been arrested on warrants for minor charges. The arrests have drawn the attention of civil liberties organizations. The NYCLU says it’s an intimidation factor meant to stifle free speech.

WAMC asked James if she’s aware of the complaints made in the Capital Region.

“I cannot tell you the jurisdictions, but our office is, our Civil Rights Bureau is looking at a number of investigations upstate.”

Still, during the conversation on stage between Abrams and James, it was clear 2022 was the elephant in the room.

James joked with Abrams after the former Attorney General and New York State Assemblymember told a story about a strategy he used in his first campaign against a long-time incumbent.

“I ordered some fortune cookies. I ordered 10,000 fortune cookies and I gave them out to people who were sitting on park benches. And I said, you know, ‘I’m Bob Abrams, I’m the independent Democrat, reform Democrat running for the State Assembly. I hope you vote in the primary. Here, have a fortune cookie!’ And they’d open up the fortune cookie and it would say, ‘Your good fortune is Bob Abrams for the Assembly.’ And they’d chuckle,” said Abrams.

“I gotta try that, that’s good. That’s really good,” said James.

Cuomo’s replacement, Governor Kathy Hochul, was asked about James’ comments Friday in Lake George.

"I'm not here to talk politics. I've got a very important job to do. And that is 100 percent of my focus, and that is the job serving as governor," she said. "We've been on the job a month and I think people are already seeing a whole new era of leadership, and people like what they see."

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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