Leticia James, right, the city’s public advocate, is one of four candidates running for attorney general. She is pictured with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul earlier this month. Photo: Courtesy of Leticia James
The seismic political power of the #MeToo movement. The drive to fix, trash or replace a busted male-dominated system. A sea change in the political climate. A dramatic shift toward the empowerment of women.
All those dynamics have transformed the Democratic primary race for state attorney general – and they were tough to miss at the forum for candidates on July 11 at the New York New Church in Murray Hill.
The scene was the old Swedenborgian church, at 114 East 35th St., where three of the contenders, all of them women, vied for support from roughly 125 members of 10 Democratic political clubhouses.
Two of the hopefuls were African-Americans. A third was about six months pregnant. The only no-show was the only male aspirant in the contest. And he was lambasted for skipping the event.
Largely aligned on the liberal-left-feminist spectrum, all three won rousing cheers from attendees, who hailed from the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, the chief sponsor, as well as the Lexington Democratic Club, Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats, Tilden Democrats, Ansonia Independent Democrats and Four Freedoms Democratic Club, among others.
Galvanizing the gathering: A backlash to the perceived depredations of President Donald Trump, coupled with a vow from all three candidates to hold him accountable through the broad enforcement powers vested in the state’s chief legal officer.
“He continues to lie, and a lie should not have life,” said Letitia (Tish) James, the public advocate who is the first woman of color ever elected to citywide office.
The clear frontrunner in the race as the official designee of the state party convention, James dubbed Trump “Agent Orange,” and added, “He is an illegitimate president.”
Only slightly more modulated was Leecia Eve, a lobbyist for Verizon, the first black woman to serve as Port Authority commissioner and a former legal adviser to Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has nevertheless endorsed James.
“He is handing out pardons like manna, dangling potential pardons to people Bob Mueller is prosecuting, and I’d aggressively pursue anyone he’s pardoned,” she said. “Every tool imaginable to prosecute Trump and the Trump Organization” would be deployed, Eve added.
If either James or Eve prevails in the primary, and then beats back a Republican opponent, it would be the first time an African-American woman was elected to statewide office in New York.WOOING THE CLUBHOUSE
Rounding out the trio was Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham University Law School professor who mounted a from-the-left primary challenge to Cuomo in 2014 and shook him up by garnering 34 percent of the ballot. Her baby is due in October.
“We are in a credibility, constitutional and democratic crisis the likes of which this country has never before seen,” she said.
Teachout pledged to use the “law as a sword, not just a shield,” and to make fighting Trump her number one priority, adding, “We need to do three things – litigate, agitate and elect.”
Her message won the day with at least one club: Minutes after the forum ended, the Four Freedoms Democratic Club, based on the Upper East Side, caucused at the front of the church, voted and delivered its endorsement.
“Zephyr Teachout will have our support in mail, in literature and with volunteers on the ground when it counts,” said Kim Moscaritolo, former president of the club and a Democratic co-district leader on the East Side.
The energy and engagement animating the race tracks to the implosion of ex-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was forced to quit on May 8 amid horrifying allegations he’d beaten, choked, sexually abused and threatened to kill four women he had dated.
State legislators filled the vacancy by appointing Barbara Underwood, the state’s solicitor general, who became the first woman to serve as New York’s top counsel, a position often referred to as the “People’s Lawyer.”
But no woman has ever been elected as AG, going back to the creation of the job in 1777, and James, Eve and Teachout all jumped in when Underwood said she wouldn’t seek election in November.
The fourth candidate is U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the three-term Hudson Valley incumbent and the first openly gay House member in the state. He’s running for AG even as he simultaneously runs for reelection to Congress, a move that faces potential legal challenges.
Maloney irked organizers by staying in Washington on the night of the forum: “He cited the responsibilities of his current job – the one he appears to no longer want,” said Mike Corbett, the Democratic co-district leader from Kips Bay, Murray Hill and Tudor City who was the event’s moderator.
And he called on the only male hopeful to “end this quixotic pursuit to be our next attorney general.”
Corbett praised all three “incredible women” for their “progressive visions,” singling out Teachout for her “fiery passion about the issues” and Eve for her “impressive resume” and accomplishments at the state and federal level.
While the state would be in “good hands” with any of them, he said his own club, the Eleanor Roosevelt Democrats, along with at least three others, had already endorsed James, and said her “two decades of government experience, combined with an incomparable knowledge of the law,” set her apart.
“She will not back down from a fight,” Corbett added.