Democrat Letitia James promises much more than simply opposing President Trump should she win her Nov. 6 election for New York attorney general against Republican Keith Wofford.
Indeed, she will continue current Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s litigation against Trump policies on immigration, civil rights, the environment and minorities. But she promises even more scrutiny of the president’s personal and corporate finances, his real estate holdings, whether he has dodged taxes, and more.
“It’s time all this was looked at,” she said. “Without a doubt.”
James, who is the New York City public advocate and known as “Tish,” says she is not singling out Trump because he is president or because of his politics. But a recent New York Times expose on his finances suggests he should be held accountable in some way, she says. She will ask if tenant rights in his properties have been violated, or if the system needs reform to guard against loopholes.
”If it’s within the statute of limitations, I will definitely look at it,” she said. “I will protect the tenants.”
At 60, James is making her debut on the statewide scene after a long career in New York City politics – first as a Council member from Brooklyn and for most of the past four years in the city’s second-highest elected post, public advocate, which acts in an ombudsman capacity between citizens and City Hall. She earned degrees at CUNY’s Lehman College, Howard University and Columbia University, and spent several years as an assistant attorney general under former Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer.
Her opposition to Trump mirrors the entire statewide Democratic ticket this fall, with Cuomo setting the pace in his own re-election effort. He attacks Trump in his speeches and TV ads, while his campaign labels Republican opponent Marc Molinaro as “Trump mini-me.”
James adopts the same strategy toward Wofford.
“Mr. Wofford can’t ignore the fact he voted for President Trump, who is now hurting New Yorkers,” she said.
James displayed her colors early in the president's term when she joined demonstrations at John F. Kennedy International Airport after Trump placed travel restrictions on a host of Muslim countries. Her opposition to such policies will only intensify if she wins, she promised.
The candidate has logged only a few trips to Buffalo since her nomination in May, including marching in the Juneteenth Parade and an early October fund-raiser. Like other Democratic candidates for statewide office this year, her campaign has taken on a decidedly downstate flavor.
”I’ve been to Buffalo on a number of occasions,” she said when asked about her relative scarcity in the area. “I try to hit as many towns as possible.”
But her strength may lie in her New York City roots, especially after successfully rallying most of downstate’s Democrats and dispatching three tough opponents in the September primary. She hopes to repeat that effort against Wofford, who remains not well known even in his hometown of Buffalo.
She also believes the public advocate post qualifies her for Albany, since she has embraced her own powers to sue over a wide range of issues. She won some and lost some, she said, but noted she is not afraid to take on Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“I pride myself as someone who believes the law can be both a sword and a shield,” she said, “particularly in protecting the rights of the marginalized.
“You’ve got to stand up and fight back,” she added. “My opponent defends the Trump administration.”
James promises to retain Underwood in her office and turn her loose in fighting corruption. She also promises a beefed-up Public Integrity Unit, and seeks the same power as the governor to convene a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption.
“The attorney general should have the original jurisdiction, and I will seek that legislation in the first 100 days,” she said. “If I don’t get it, I still have tools to combat corruption.”
That includes more cooperation with the comptroller as well as more assistance to district attorneys in smaller counties, she added.
“In Buffalo it’s a major issue,” she said of corruption, “and this issue joins upstate and downstate; there’s no divide. We’ve become a laughingstock.
“We need to send a message that public corruption will not be tolerated and individuals need to be made an example of,” she added.
Wofford has questioned his opponent’s independence, pointing to Cuomo’s support of her in the primary and Mayor Byron W. Brown’s backing at the Democratic State Convention. The Republican says she is indebted and can’t be counted on to pursue corruption at the highest levels.
“He’s the choice of the Republican Party and the choice of Mr. Molinaro,” she counters. “Who is he to question my independence when he’s been defending corporations all his life?
“The reality is that Gov. Cuomo supported me,” she added, “but he didn’t make me.”