Huh: NY AG passes on gubernatorial run after taking Cuomo out

(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Kathy Hochul had the inside track to the Democratic nomination, but Letitia James had an arguably better opportunity to get the gubernatorial nod. Instead of pressing her advantages on diversity and distance from Andrew Cuomo, however, the New York AG has “suspended” her campaign for next year’s gubernatorial nomination. Instead, she’s aiming for re-election as AG:

New York Attorney General Letitia James is suspending her campaign for governor after less than two months.

“I have come to the conclusion that I must continue my work as attorney general,” James said in a surprise announcement Thursday. “There are a number of important investigations and cases that are underway, and I intend to finish the job.”

James said she would run for reelection as attorney general.

That’s a surprising decision, especially given how many scalps James has already rung up. Besides pushing Cuomo out of the governor’s office, which opened up an opportunity for James, her report also resulted in Chris Cuomo’s career demise as well. In fact, the release of text messages prompted another high-profile resignation from a Cuomo ally shortly before James’ announcement eclipsed the news:

Jim Malatras, the chancellor of the State University of New York, submitted his resignation on Thursday following intense political pressure for him to step down over text messages that showed him belittling one of the women who had accused former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of sexual harassment.

His resignation, which goes into effect on Jan. 14, marked a spectacular fall for yet another of Mr. Cuomo’s allies amid the multiple scandals that led to the former governor’s resignation in August.

Mr. Malatras faced bipartisan backlash and mounting criticism over the past two weeks after Letitia James, the state attorney general, released new evidence from her office’s investigation into Mr. Cuomo. …

The public feud spilled over into a private text chain among members of Cuomo’s inner circle. In one text to the group, Mr. Malatras wrote, “Malatras to Boylan:,” followed by an obscenity. In another text message, Mr. Malatras wrote, “Let’s release some of her cray emails!” Cray is slang for crazy.

As the NYT notes, that makes it almost a clean sweep now by James:

Ms. Hochul’s attempts to distance herself from Mr. Cuomo have led to the resignation of nearly all of the officials who were part of Mr. Cuomo’s inner orbit, including most of his top staff, as well as his inspector general and health commissioner. Mr. Malatras had been one of the last holdouts.

What scalps did James still have left to get? Here’s another report from the NYT with a pretty good guess:

The announcement came on the same day that it became known that Ms. James’s office intended to subpoena former President Donald J. Trump to testify in a civil fraud investigation.

Ms. James, whose office is also participating in the criminal investigation being run by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., is seeking to question Mr. Trump under oath on Jan. 7 as part of her separate civil inquiry into his business practices.

Is a civil action against Donald Trump really worth passing up a promotion to the top state executive office? That doesn’t sound plausible, but perhaps James didn’t think she’d get the promotion anyway. James would have likely lost the nomination fight to Hochul, who has busily consolidated support since replacing Cuomo:

Recent opinion polls had shown Ms. James trailing Ms. Hochul, the state’s first female governor, among Democratic primary voters by double digits, and she was thought to significantly trail the governor in fund-raising, as well. Ms. Hochul, a prolific campaigner, has also rolled out a steady stream of endorsements, though Ms. James had also secured some prominent backing.

Ms. James also faced significant competition for her New York City base: Jumaane D. Williams, the New York City public advocate and another Brooklynite, threatened to cut into parts of the coalition she was hoping to build, and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, who is also looking at a run, could have siphoned off some of the Brooklyn-rooted voters she had been counting on. Brooklyn represents the single largest voting bloc in most Democratic statewide primaries.

There’s no way de Blasio beats Hochul to the nomination — unless James is in the mix and the votes start splitting unpredictably. De Blasio isn’t popular even in NYC, and it’s a sure bet that he’s not going to sell outside the Big Apple even in the Democratic primaries. By pulling out now, James preserves her political position and office, and will have a legit argument of having done her party a huge solid:

She opted to relinquish her pursuit of the governor’s office for the good of the state Democratic party, the chairman told ABC News.

“I think that she understands that we need to be united now and divisive primary is going to go against our interests. Not going to help us. This was a selfless act on her part,” state Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs told WABC.

Whatever the reason, it’s not good news for Cuomo. He had planned to fight any charges or litigation that might come as having been the victim of a political coup created by a woman who had her sights set on his job. James’ decision to pull out makes that an even less credible defense.