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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

The season of overreach beckons

New York Attorney General Letitia James

New York Attorney General Letitia James Credit: James Carbone

For several top New York Democrats, and maybe a few Republicans, the next few weeks could usher in the season when we find out who is overreaching for power in the statewide campaigns already heating up for 2022.

Politicians often find themselves weighing the risk of looking too grasping. Nobody can predict whether a lunge for advancement succeeds or fails.

One salient question is whether Attorney General Letitia James makes her current role a path to the governorship. The road ahead is fraught with the challenge of keeping voters assured that her high-profile cases are built on the merits.

In her Democratic primary bid against Gov. Kathy Hochul, James will be called on to defend the searing report her office assigned and issued on ex-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's conduct.

Cuomo’s attorney Rita Glavin, and others still at the ex-governor's side, issue near-daily charges of fatal flaws in the report, routinely referenced in news coverage, to be amplified in some form of drumbeat backed by Cuomo's still-flush campaign account.

Skeptics will wonder whether it is an overreach for James to continue as AG and generate contentious government news while seeking the top spot. Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer both made that leap — but not against an incumbent Democrat. All is speculative with a long fight ahead.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has strong early GOP support for governor. But from the start his quest has looked like an overreach because Zeldin has done nothing to dissociate his Washington career from the most explosive Donald Trump scandals.

Zeldin voted against establishing a bipartisan commission to probe the Jan. 6 riot, and against certifying President Joe Biden’s clear wins last year in both Arizona and Pennsylvania. Most recently, Zeldin even voted against the bipartisan infrastructure package that carries billions of dollars in project aid for the state he wants to lead.

Can he make those facts non-issues in the months ahead?

We do not yet know whether Hochul tactically overreached by appointing a lieutenant governor, which she was not required to do when she succeeded Cuomo. She spoke of a "balanced ticket" before picking State Sen. Brian Benjamin of Manhattan as LG.

While Benjamin braces to face a statewide audience in the primary, an unfortunate distraction arises. Harlem real estate developer Gerald Migdol was indicted this month for allegedly funneling illegal donations to Benjamin’s city comptroller campaign. The candidate isn't implicated, but the case gives rival campaigns something new to work with.

Barely two weeks after winning his first full four-year term as New York City’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams declared for governor. Not that the ordinary city resident would necessarily miss having a full-time public advocate — the duties are those of a do-it-yourself ombudsman, though second in line of succession to the mayor.

Will the optics of Williams' devotion to staying on the city payroll with his eyes on Albany send a dubious message? The degree of his overreach will depend on who is made to care.

So far, soon-to-depart Mayor Bill de Blasio comes off as a master, maybe not of tactical overreach, but of obliviousness to failure. His bid for president last year went nowhere. Can a run next year for New York governor match that bid for zero-risk futility? The two-term mayor has set a strange standard for himself.

Trying to trade up on an elected job has its hazards — no matter who does the reaching.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.