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2022 race for NY governor already well underway

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced that an investigation into New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo found that he sexually harassed multiple current and former state employees.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced that an investigation into New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo found that he sexually harassed multiple current and former state employees.

Even before 2021’s elections are over, the 2022 race for governor of New York heated up with the entry of State Attorney General Tish James. James’ reports on the state’s handling of nursing home policy during the COVID-19 pandemic — and her finding that Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women — helped lead to the political downfall of the former governor. But, it's likely that James won't be the only one running.

James, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, has a law degree from Howard University. She began her career as a public defender and eventually worked as an assistant attorney general. She ran and won a New York City Council seat, and served as that city’s public advocate.

In 2018, she became New York’s first female and first African American attorney general, winning a four-way Democratic primary after Eric Schneiderman resigned amid a domestic violence scandal.

James, who had been signaling her intentions to run for governor for some time, made it official with an announcement on Friday afternoon. She highlighted her achievements during the past two years as attorney general, including her frequent legal battles with former President Donald Trump’s administration and business interests.

“I’ve gone after the drug companies for fueling the opioid crisis, I fought for better conditions and transparency in nursing homes,” James says in the video. “I’ve sued the Trump administration 76 times. But who’s counting?”

James did not mention former Governor Cuomo by name, but she alluded to the inquiry that her office conducted, using two independent investigators, that found Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women, saying she “held accountable” those who mistreated and harassed women “no matter how powerful the offenders.”

James released the findings of the report, which was conducted at Cuomo’s request, in early August.

"These interviews and pieces of evidence reveal a deeply disturbing yet clear picture,” James said on August 3. “Governor Cuomo sexually harassed current and former state employees in violation of both federal and state laws.”

Cuomo announced plans to resign one week later. He faces a criminal complaint of forcibly touching a former staffer by groping under her shirt. The former governor and his attorney deny all charges and accuse James of being politically motivated.

Before the sexual harassment report, the attorney general in January found Cuomo and his top aides undercounted by 50 percent the number of deaths of nursing home residents during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York.

James enters what is expected to be a crowded field. Cuomo’s successor, Governor Kathy Hochul, said almost immediately after taking office on August 24 that she is running to keep the position.

“This is an emotional moment for me, but it is one that I have prepared for,” Hochul said during her swearing-in ceremony.

Since then, Hochul has kept up an intensely busy schedule, traveling the state to draw on support and connections she made during her six years as the state’s lieutenant governor. She’s also raising money for what she hopes will be a $25 million campaign war chest.

Hochul told reporters on Monday that she’s ready for the contest, but is staying focused on governing.

“I can handle this, bring it on,” Hochul said. “But right now, there are so many needs in this state.”

Hochul says she’s working to bring New York back as the pandemic wanes.

“And that is beyond a full-time job,” she said.

Hochul says in the meantime, she plans to work with the attorney general, who is often called upon to represent a governor’s legal interests in state-related matters.

“I understand the difference between politics and the need to govern,” said Hochul, who added she expects the relationship to remain “cordial.”

Other potential candidates in the June Democratic primary include current New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who has formed an exploratory committee. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will be term-limited out of his post at the end of the year, is also reported to be interested. Another potential candidate is Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi.

Cuomo also cannot be ruled out. The former governor continues to send updates to his supporters maintaining his innocence in the sexual harassment allegations, and saying that his accusers, and state and local investigators, want to destroy him politically.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.