NY Governor’s Race Has Been Scrambled Again

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference in New York, June 11, 2019. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

In a surprise announcement, New York attorney general Letitia James has dropped out of the primary contest for governor. James, a progressive favorite looking to become the state’s first elected black governor, will run for reelection instead and bide her time seeking a higher office. James had been a leading figure in toppling Andrew Cuomo, issuing scathing reports on the governor over sexual harassment, the fatal policy of sending Covid patients back to nursing homes, and the coverups of both. In recent polls, James was below 20 percent of the vote, around half the support of Governor Kathy Hochul, but it is still early.

This has a couple of ripple effects. James is still the biggest progressive heavyweight in the state, which means that the next plausible opening for major statewide office could go to her rather than to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The Democratic primary now reshuffles: Congressman Tom Suozzi (the former Nassau County executive) will be running against Hochul from the right, but Hochul may not end up fighting a serious two-front war. There are still two possible progressive challengers. Jumaane Williams, the New York City Public Advocate who lost the 2018 primary for lieutenant governor to Hochul, jumped into the race in mid November. It also remains to be seen if outgoing New York City mayor Bill de Blasio follows through on his threat to run. Even that may not matter much, given that de Blasio is a laughingstock even in New York City, let alone statewide. If Hochul is able to secure her left flank, one wonders if Suozzi gets cold feet, too, but he may simply be banking on an anti-incumbent mood of voters frustrated with Hochul’s own Covid policies by the time the primary rolls around.

Republicans have their own race. Congressman Lee Zeldin, of Suffolk County, has generally been seen as the front-runner, but there are two other high-profile contenders: Rob Astorino, the former Westchester County executive who lost to Cuomo in 2014, and Andrew Giuliani, son of Rudy. Even in a wave year, it would take a perfect alignment of the political stars for the Republican to win this race, and the departure of James probably lowers the likelihood of the kind of ideologically and racially divisive Democratic primary that would help Republicans.