“Establishment” Candidates Win New York Statewide Office, While Insurgents Rise at the Grassroots

Letitia James will make history as the first black woman to ever hold statewide office.

By Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Esq.

The results of Thursday’s elections taught many lessons. They showed how entrenched the establishment is at the top, but also revealed how powerful grassroots organizing could be at a hyper local level. In an unsurprising victory, incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo easily won the gubernatorial race against Cynthia Nixon.

Letitia James beat three other viable candidates in the race for attorney general. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, Kathy Hochul won for Liutenant Govenor, but only by a very slim margin, beating current City Council Member Jumaane Williams. Cuomo, James and Hochul ran on the same ticket, so to speak, with mailers and advertisements from the State Democratic Committee recommending that voters choose these three candidates for their respective positions. The results show that while people believed Cuomo should get another term, they weren’t so sure about having his “right hand” be someone handpicked.

By just a handful of votes, Jumaane Williams lost, but he emerged as one of the only “winning losers” in a tight race for lieutenant governor. Voters may have been reimagining what’s possible for the lieutenant governor seat. The position typically functions like a vice president, however, Williams would have made it a position that served as a check on the governor’s powers. Williams, whose parents are from Grenada, has been a supporter of New York’s Caribbean communities and an unabashed ally for immigrant rights and criminal justice reform, which all too often go hand in hand.

Cuomo and Hochul’s victories are a big win for the Democratic machine. While Letitia James’ was the “establishment’s pick,” history shows that she will probably shake things up as Attorney General. James has always aligned herself with New York City’s progressive movement. Throughout her campaign, she called for marijuana legalization, the abolition of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and criminal justice reform.

Letitia James, or “Tish” as she’s commonly called, is a longtime politician with ties to both New York’s working class and its wealthy elites. When she is likely to be elected after the November General Elections, James will become the first woman, the first African American, and the first woman of color to ever be elected to the attorney general position. She would also become the first African American woman to hold any statewide office. This comes just 5 years after she became the first African American woman to hold citywide office, with her current title as Public Advocate for the City of New York. The public advocate role has been used as a launch pad for higher office, recently with Mayor Bill De Blasio who was public advocate before being elected Mayor, and now with James.

In a powerful address to supporters at her victory party in Brooklyn this past Thursday, with Andrew Cuomo notoriously missing in action, James said, “This campaign was really never about me, or any of the candidates who ran.” She continued, “It was about the people, but most importantly it was about that man in the White House who can’t go a day without threatening our fundamental rights, can’t go a day without threatening the rights of immigrants, can’t go a day without dividing us.” All the candidates running for statewide election from governor to lieutenant governor, to attorney general, at various times on the campaign trail sounded as if their main opponent was the president of the United States and not their actual rivals; taking advantage of the President’s low favorability among the electorate and a moment in our country’s history when democracy and basic humanity seems to be at risk.

James, 59, is a Howard University law graduate who started her career as a public defender with the Legal Aid Society. She served as legal counsel to legislators in Albany, and was an assistant attorney general under Eliot Spitzer. She was elected to the City Council in 2003 on the Working Families Party line – which she declined to pursue in this race – and served there until winning the public advocate’s race in 2013.

In her years as both a City Council Member and as Public Advocate, James found her way to meet so many different communities. She has always been a tireless servant of the people – all people – as was underscored in her victory speech when she highlighted her support for New York labor and their right to unionize, for those immigrant families who are being separated by the Trump Administration, and for all marginalized populations during uncertain times. James is a regular face at rallies against Trump’s policies, and she is unafraid to call out corruption for what it is.

While statewide elections featured the victory of incumbents, in the state Senate races, insurgents did remarkably well. In Queens, two state senators who were formerly part of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) lost their bids for re-election. State Senator Jose Peralta lost to Jessica Ramos in the 13th District primary covering areas of northwest Queens. On the other side of the borough, State Senator Tony Avella of the 11th District lost to former City Comptroller John Liu, in a big comeback for Liu. The IDC was a breakaway group of state Senate Democrats who collaborated with Senate Republicans. The group came under heat from traditional Democrats who felt that they were getting in the way of passing progressive legislation in Albany. Branded as “fake Democrats,” six of the eight former members of the IDC lost.

Aside from the IDC losers, another incumbent in Queens, Assemblywoman Ari Espinal lost to Catalina Cruz. If she wins the general election, Cruz would be the first Dreamer to hold office in New York and the third Dreamer to serve in an elected office in the country. Cruz was a legislative attorney under former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is purportedly interested in running for Letitia James’ Public Advocate seat if and when James vacates the seat to become Attorney General.



The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.