For Tish James a steady ascent through New York politics

Letitia James got her start in an elected office under tragic circumstances. Brooklyn City Councilman James Davis, who had defeated her in a 2001 primary election, was assassinated at City Hall two years later. James won the race to replace him, the first candidate to win the office in New York, running only on the Working Families Party line.

It was the first of many barriers she would break.

What you need to know

  • In 2003, Letitia James was elected to city council after James Davis was assassinated at City Hall by a political rival
  • She was elected public prosecutor in 2013 after winning a crowded primary election and subsequent re-election
  • In 2018, James became the first female and first black public prosecutor after Eric Schneiderman’s resignation

In 2013, after finishing first in a crowded primary election for public prosecutor and then winning a subsequent settlement, James became the first black woman to win a city-wide office. She would try to get the most out of the watchdog role by enacting legislation and bringing lawsuits, though many were quickly fired.

So in 2018, Eric Schneiderman’s resignation created yet another opening, and with the backing of the Democratic establishment, she became the first female and first black state attorney.

James, a lifelong Brooklynite, has always had a knack for the dramatic: At a 2011 City Council hearing on the city’s failed response to a snowstorm, she produced a set of tire chains and got up while asking the city’s health commissioner.

“These supposedly you had on the tow trucks,” she said. “They’re made of aluminum. And they broke.”

Critics have seen some features as overly theatrical, such as when she brought a homeless girl who had been the subject of media coverage to her inauguration in 2014. And she made the legally binding decision to designate Donald Trump as a target, even before she became public prosecutor.

But high-profile cases like those against Trump, the NRA and social media giants Google and Facebook have made headlines – as did the report that ultimately toppled Andrew Cuomo.

“Governor Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed several women, violating federal and state law,” she told a news conference announcing the report’s findings.

But James has also shown restraint at the right times, as he has hesitated with his plans to run for governor, even as speculation grew.

She referred badly to the race during a recent speech to the Association for a Better New York.

“So Eric Adams was here last, and he’s the Democratic candidate. And here I am, Letitia James. And then,” she said, raising her hands, “who knows.”


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