When President Trump imposed travel restrictions on a host of Muslim countries early in his administration, Tish James was among the hundreds who descended upon John F. Kennedy International Airport to protest and welcome foreign visitors.
The New York City public advocate, who is seeking the Democratic nod for state attorney general, now promises even more opposition to Trump administration policies that she considers violations of human rights.
“We’ve led the way in terms of being the resistance,” she said in Buffalo on Saturday. “When we assume the role of attorney general, we’ll do the same.”
James, 59, is campaigning in Buffalo this weekend for the first time since overwhelmingly winning the party endorsement last month to succeed Eric T. Schneiderman as the state’s chief legal officer. She attended a Cheektowaga police event Friday night, marched in Saturday’s Juneteenth Parade through Martin Luther King Jr. Park and was scheduled to attend services in three East Side churches on Sunday.
If successful, she will be the state’s first black attorney general and first woman elected to the post.
And in a significant show of support in the home turf of another attorney general candidate – Buffalo native Leecia R. Eve – James gained backing from much of the region’s top Democratic leadership Saturday at Juneteenth headquarters. Mayor Byron W. Brown, Council President Darius G. Pridgen and Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes all endorsed her candidacy in the September Democratic primary, despite the local Democratic organization’s support for Eve.
“Public Advocate Tish James has been committed to protecting the rights of all New Yorkers throughout her career, and I am proud to endorse her as our next attorney general,” said Brown, who is also the state Democratic chairman. “Now, more than ever, we need a fearless leader who will stand up to Donald Trump’s attacks on our Constitution and the rule of law.”
Others seeking the party nod include Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of the Hudson Valley and 2014 gubernatorial hopeful Zephyr Teachout. But James has emerged as the candidate to beat in September, with the backing of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and expecting support from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
And as one of only two citywide office holders in New York City, she enters the race with almost universal name recognition in the huge downstate voting bloc that will constitute 51 percent of Democratic primary voters.
“Obviously that puts me in a good position,” she said during a Saturday interview. “It also helps me that my candidacy is known to a certain extent outside New York City. That speaks to why the mayor and the assemblywoman and the Council president are endorsing me.”
James was widely viewed as a New York mayoral candidate in 2021, and acknowledges that Schneiderman’s unexpected resignation following allegations of physically abusing women drastically altered her career plans. She turned her aim to the post of attorney general, a position in which the last two people elected governor burnished their statewide credentials.
She says her two elections to New York City’s second highest office (which performs a host of watchdog responsibilities) were ideal preparation for an attorney general bid, in addition to 10 years representing a Brooklyn district in the City Council and Albany stints as Assembly staffer and assistant attorney general. She points to more lawsuits filed by her office than by her three predecessors combined.
“We transformed the Office of Public Advocate into a mini-Attorney General’s Office, stretching the boundaries on litigation,” she said. “We went beyond just handling Freedom of Information cases to filing suits aiming to enforce the law, even when Mayor de Blasio filed lawsuits challenging our ability to do that.”
Critics have called her too close to de Blasio and Cuomo, too, but she says that stems from comparison to her more vocal shots at former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. She points to litigation her office has filed to uncover scams in various city contracts, Securities and Exchange Commission action on mergers, and new practices to combat consumer fraud.
That’s why she says she will pattern herself over previous attorneys general who carved out reputations as consumer champions (Robert G. Abrams), criminal prosecutors (Dennis C. Vacco), or Wall Street watchdogs (Cuomo and Eliot L. Spitzer).
“All of the above,” she said.
James also said she will not shy away from Schneiderman’s efforts to root out corruption and enforce election law, noting the attorney general’s pending case against former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon.
“The Office of Attorney General has the responsibility to investigate these things and follow the evidence without an eye for politics,” she said, “just an eye for justice.”
James charges toward the primary election with significant support from organized labor from her defense of union rights and women’s groups because of a strong pro-choice stand. She noted Saturday prior to her Juneteenth appearance that she is no stranger to Buffalo, having supported in Albany efforts championed by former Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve – father of primary rival Leecia Eve.
They included helping to write legislation for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Peace Bridge. She also sees no difficulties in challenging Eve this weekend in her hometown.
“Leecia is a friend,” James said. “I’m not saying I’m opposing her. I’m saying we’re running for the same office.”