ALBANY — New York City Public Advocate Letitia James on Thursday became the first African-American woman to win the Democratic nomination for a statewide seat after she was declared the winner of the four-way primary for state attorney general.
With 95 percent of precincts reporting, James had 40 percent of the vote to 31 percent for Fordham law Professor Zephyr Teachout; 24 percent for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney; and 3 percent for Buffalo-born corporate attorney Leecia Eve.
James won with the help of an endorsement and fundraising support from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“I will be that independent individual I have been for the last 20 years,” James said in her victory speech.
Shortly after 11 p.m., Teachout conceded, saying, “Please join me in congratulating her on her historic victory.”
The race was a close contest as the four liberal Democrats fought over who would best take on Republican President Donald Trump while remaining independent of Cuomo in fighting corruption in Albany.
James, 54, entered the race with many advantages including the name recognition of an elected official in the city whose Democrats could determine the primary winner; the endorsement of Cuomo and the state Democratic Committee he heads; and the fundraising help from Cuomo and his longtime campaign contributors including labor unions.
“I am unbossed and unbought in the proud tradition of [Rep.] Shirley Chisholm,” James often said on the campaign trail against attacks on her independence.
In a race in which the liberal vote was courted exclusively, Teachout won the biggest endorsements including the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive leader and 2016 president candidate. To his liberal, young following tired of establishment politics, he said Teachout “will combat corruption wherever it hides, and will be a strong and independent voice.”
Teachout, 46, argued she would be more independent of Cuomo than her opponents, and that would allow her to ply to her expertise in government corruption to Albany. On Monday, she said she would investigate Cuomo for a series of ethical accusations thrown at him in his own primary race, and she challenged her colleagues to promise the same. None did.
Maloney, 52, who held dozens of town hall meetings, put on a late kick and attracted the support of big campaign contributors. In September, the former adviser to President Bill Clinton and Govs. Eliot Spitzer and David A. Paterson stepped up his TV ad blitz while raising $190,000, with his opponents raising just a fraction of that.
Eve, 54, accurately portrayed herself as having the most experience actually lawyering and working in a courtroom — “no candidate is even close.”
“You need an experienced lawyer, not someone who joined the bar two weeks ago,” Eve said in a shot at Teachout, who has been a lawyer for 17 years in other states and in federal court, but just recently joined the state Bar Association.
The race focused from the start on the New York City vote, which accounts for just over half of the traditional turnout in Democratic primaries. In Monday’s Siena College Research Institute poll, James led her competitors in New York City and among the critical groups within that vote: liberals, African-Americans and young voters.
Each candidate emphasized another top priority: combating Trump’s hardline policies on immigration, the environment and organized labor. Each candidate said they would continue an investigation into Trump’s charitable foundation amid claims that he used its resources for personal benefit, and each promised to use state business laws to investigate his businesses, based in Manhattan, where federal laws might be limited. Each also said they would pry Trump’s tax returns free, after he has refused to release them as part of a tradition for presidential candidates.
James will face Manhattan lawyer and political novice candidate Keith Wofford, the Republican nominee, to fill the seat vacated in May by two-term Democratic Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman after women he dated accused him of abuse.