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Tish James tiptoes

State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a

State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference Aug. 3. Credit: EPA / Justin Lane

Daily Point

The Tish-for-governor tease

State Attorney General Letitia James lightly sidestepped the question of whether she’s running for governor during her appearance at Wednesday’s Association for a Better New York breakfast.

After a moment of silence for those lost to COVID-19, she noted that Eric Adams, the Democratic mayoral nominee, was at the last in-person gathering of the group, "and here I am, Letitia James, and so, who knows? … Don’t read anything into that! … OK, the reporters are already writing."

Later, she answered chairman Steve Rubenstein’s question about it, first with a humorous goodbye and then a variation of the standard and noncommittal statement that she’s focused on her current job.

But had she been launching a run at ABNY — an accustomed safe space for top government speakers because of its business and civic orientation — James’ half-hour appearance on Wednesday would have fit the bill by checking off multiple boxes.

First, there was the timing. The well-applauded speech came in the same 24-hour news cycle as Public Advocate Jumaane Williams announcing an "exploratory" committee for governor — and just as Gov. Kathy Hochul confirmed she’d nominate former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett for state health commissioner amid coverage of Hochul's major-league fundraising for next year.

Also, there were the kudos both in James' prepared remarks and during the Q&A that followed. In different policy contexts, she hat-tipped U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, State Sens. Alessandra Biaggi and Liz Krueger, Hunter College President Jennifer Raab, the League of Women Voters, Reinvent NY, NYPIRG and others.

James defended her performance as attorney general from the most recent attacks by ex-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his surrogates by favorably comparing the rationale, methods and substance of her sex-harassment probe with AG Cuomo’s damaging report on then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Her remarks prompted Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi to retweet his monthslong prognostication that she will run for governor, which the Cuomo team has said was the motive for her office’s findings that Cuomo harassed women and set a toxic work environment.

James talked about causes that expand on the strict confines of her elected duties including infrastructure, poverty and community needs. And in rhetoric that could be adapted to any campaign or convention speech, she said: "I want to make a promise, that the first, last and only thing I will ever consider is what’s best for the people of the state and in my country."

She didn’t happen to mention the names of potential rivals including Hochul. It wouldn’t have been lost on those in the room with institutional memory that the last two governors elected in New York came fresh from the attorney general’s post while the last lieutenant governor who ascended by his boss’s resignation simply finished the term.

Political guests at ABNY and other such forums frequently adapt their stump speech for immediate use. Whether James ultimately jumps in the fray for governor, or seeks reelection as AG, many of the applause lines will be heard again.

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

Talking Point

One opening on NIFA board, among many

Having served two terms as Nassau County comptroller, as well as having lost two races for the role, Howard Weitzman was at the center of the county’s politics for decades. The longtime accountant, 75 years old when he passed of a rare blood disorder last week, was known for his in-depth knowledge of finances and his courtly approach.

That’s what led Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to appoint him to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority board in 2016 and again in 2018, and his death now leaves that seat open.

But it was going to come open in a few months anyway, at which point all the seats will be available for new appointments or renewals. Three already are "open," filled by holdovers who have not been reappointed, several of them for years.

  • The term of Chairman Adam Barsky, appointed by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, ran out at the end of 2016.
  • The term of Paul Annunziato, also a Cuomo pick, ended in 2014.
  • Lester Petracca’s 2013 appointment by Cuomo ran out in 2016.
  • The most recent term of Chris Wright, a pick of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, expires on Dec. 31.
  • Relative newcomer Moshin Y. Meghji, the pick earlier this year of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, will see his partial term expire on Dec. 31.

With the county awash in federal money and breathing easier after a debt restructuring, the rationale for the county control period imposed by NIFA, allowed when Nassau faces a deficit larger than 1% of its annual budget, has faded. That could embolden opponents of the board to push for the end of the control period, and even the dissolving of NIFA.

"Once we see how the county’s budget for next year looks, and how the numbers end up this year, ending the control period could certainly be considered," Barsky told The Point Wednesday. "But as far as dissolving NIFA … we have bonds that have to be paid for years, and we serve a real watchdog function of independently reviewing the county’s finances. And as long as we’re here, the threat of a possible future control period exists to encourage prudence."

What happens will depend on whether the relative easing of Nassau’s financial struggles, brought on by temporary one-shot revenue moves, is permanent.

And those are the problems Weitzman worked for much of his political career to solve.

— Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

See?

For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons

Final Point

Primary lines

Much of the conversation about the very-work-in-progress draft maps from the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission has focused on how the redrawn districts would affect Republican chances in a general election.

But primaries could be jostled, too.

Take the situation for Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn, running in the Democratic primary for what is now CD1. That district starts on the eastern tip of Long Island, where incumbent Republican Lee Zeldin is currently making a run for governor. The Democratic-leaning "letters" draft map cuts off a chunk of the western (and often Republican) portion of CD1, putting Hahn’s Setauket hometown in a district that stretches to Queens and includes incumbent Tom Suozzi’s Glen Cove.

Technically Hahn wouldn’t need to live in the district to represent it — House residency qualifications only require that you be a resident of the state when elected, according to the state Board of Elections. But district lines rejiggered in this way could certainly create political problems for Hahn were they to be enacted. Both Zeldin and Bridget Fleming, another Democrat running in the primary, would remain in the east-most district in the "letters" map.

Hahn spokeswoman Kelley Hardon told The Point they were "not concerned" about final maps putting Hahn in a different race. "We’re not going to speculate on a map that the commission itself couldn't even agree on."

Indeed, the commission put out two sets of possible maps for Congressional districts — the GOP-friendly one had Hahn in her usual stamping grounds. And it will likely be months before a final set of district maps is hammered out, after hearings and negotiations and, very probably, the Democratic-controlled State Legislature getting involved.

First up is that series of hearings, at which members of the public are encouraged to give their map guidance. Hardon says Hahn herself hasn’t submitted feedback to the commission: "We’re letting the process unfold."

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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