Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday responded to questions about New York Attorney General Letitia James' decision to leave the race for governor of New York, saying, "I respect her tremendously."  Credit: NY Governor's Office

ALBANY — Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, announced Thursday she was withdrawing from the governor's race, eliminating the candidate many considered Gov. Kathy Hochul's most formidable challenger in a Democratic primary.

Just six weeks after jumping in the race, James reversed course and said she wants to continue in her current office.

"I have come to the conclusion that I must continue my work as attorney general," James said. "There are a number of important investigations and cases that are underway and I intend to finish the job. I am running for reelection to complete the work New Yorkers elected me to do."

What to know

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday she was ending her Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Just six weeks after entering the race, James reversed course and said she wanted to remain in her current job.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams remained in the Democratic primary race.

The news came as party insiders said James was struggling to raise campaign money compared with Hochul, and Democratic officials were trying to get party members to rally behind the governor.

It also came two days after a new statewide poll showing Hochul with an 18-point lead over James, her nearest challenger.

"I think this was a selfless thing for [James] to do, for the benefit of party unity," Jay Jacobs, state and Nassau County Democratic chairman, told Newsday.

James entered the governor's race in October — against Jacobs' wishes — just two months after her office's investigation of sexual harassment allegations against former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo triggered his resignation.

Based in Brooklyn, and friendly with big unions and progressive groups, James was seen as Hochul's strongest challenger in the primary.

James also was pursuing a historic quest to become the first Black woman elected governor in the nation.

But analysts said the Siena College poll released this week showed she wasn't gaining traction.

"She jumped in but it did not change the race" in terms of shaking it up, Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff said.

"There wasn't a lot of visibility and the poll numbers are what they are," Miringoff said of James' campaign.

At a news conference about two hours after James' announcement, Hochul said the attorney general had phoned her in the morning to tell her of the decision.

Hochul said it was a "cordial" and "respectful" conversation with discussions about continuing to work together with James as attorney general.

Hochul endorsed James' reelection and added, "I look forward to having her on the ticket."

Although James' withdrawal had brought "a change in circumstances … I always, always, always run like an underdog," Hochul said.

"I'm a Buffalo Bills fan, I'm used to being an underdog," she continued. "And in my mind, I'm down and I work hard and that's the hallmark of my successes — no matter what a poll shows, no matter what the landscape looks like. … Unless everyone drops out, we will have a primary and I'm expecting that."

Still, looking ahead, Hochul said, "I think Republicans will look at this, as well, as not a good development for them as we march unified" in 2022.

Even after James' withdrawal, two other candidates remain in the primary: Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also is weighing a run.

But veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said James' decision likely clears the path for Hochul.

"This is over," Sheinkopf told Newsday. "Hochul is likely to be the [gubernatorial] nominee. Tom Suozzi is likely to run for reelection" to the House.

Sheinkopf said Hochul has a shot at locking up crucial blocs of New York City Democrats now that James is out.

Williams can appeal to the party's left but will have a harder time getting broader support, Sheinkopf said.

He said Suozzi, like Hochul, is viewed as part of the Democratic Party's more moderate wing and would be competing for many of the same supporters as Hochul.

As if on cue, one of James' key Brooklyn supporters immediately endorsed Hochul.

"Today, I am proud to endorse Kathy Hochul for governor," Assemb. Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn), chairwoman of the Kings County Democratic Party, said minutes after James withdrew.

"Kathy has accomplished more in four months than many of her predecessors in an entire term," Bichotte said. "I am confident that Hochul will be the best choice to lead our state forward … and she will have the support of Brooklyn behind her as she continues to blaze a path as our first female governor."

Suozzi went on Twitter to offer his "best wishes" to James, who he said "has tremendous responsibilities as the sitting AG & I understand her desire to devote her energies to seeing through & continuing the important matters before her."

Addressing the reframed Democratic primary, Suozzi said: "As to the governor's race, this narrowed field underscores that the voters are seeking experienced managers with common sense solutions to everyday problems like crime and taxes."

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a GOP candidate for governor, said James' decision made it more likely Williams would be the Democratic nominee.

With James out of the race, "the field in New York City — the highest concentration of New York’s Democratic Party Primary voters — is clearer than ever for Jumaane," Zeldin said in a campaign statement.

Another Republican candidate, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, tweeted he "agreed" with James that "Kathy Hochul (AKA: Cuomo 2.0) doesn’t deserve to be reelected."

James' decision to run for reelection had another ripple effect, as would-be Democratic attorney general candidates including state Sens. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers), and former Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, all said they were withdrawing from consideration.

Maria Vullo, formerly New York's top financial regulator and two-time finalist for nomination to the state's top court, said she was staying in the attorney general's race.

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