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Opponents pounce on James' reluctance to be 'sheriff' of Wall Street

Letitia James, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary

Letitia James, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary for state attorney general, on Aug. 13, 2017. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Rivals are pouncing on Letitia James’ comments that she doesn’t want to be the “sheriff" of Wall Street, saying she is renouncing what has become a key part of the job of the New York state attorney general.

“Incomprehensibly bizarre and completely disqualifying,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, one of four Democratic candidates for attorney general, wrote on Twitter.

“I can’t wait to be known as the Sheriff of Wall Street, because now more than ever, when Congress is awash in corporate cash, the New York Attorney General must be the regulator of last resort,” Zephyr Teachout said in a statement.

At issue are comments James – the New York City public advocate and front-runner for the Democratic nomination – gave to The New York Times, in which she said: “It’s really, critically important that I not be known as the ‘Sheriff on Wall Street.’”

That’s a reference to the moniker applied to then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who earned national headlines when he investigated Wall Street fraud.

Ever since, Democratic candidates have pledged to also be the “sheriff.” It was a role Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo embraced when he ran in 2006 to replace Spitzer, saying it was part of the “job description” of being state attorney general. And it was a major theme of Eric T. Schneiderman’s successful bid to win the office in 2010.

James’ comments would seem to put her at odds with that role and her rivals in the four-way Democratic primary. Leecia Eve, a former staffer for Cuomo and Hillary Clinton, is also running in the Sept. 13 race.

James made in remarks in apparent response to a question about use of the Martin Act, the legal tool the state attorney general’s office has used to investigate Wall Street abuses. After saying she didn’t want to be known as the “Sheriff on Wall Street,” she added she “didn’t believe in labels.”

Later Tuesday, in response to the criticism from Teachout and Maloney, James issued a statement saying: "I will take on Wall Street abuses and any other force harming New Yorkers." 

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