The onetime shoo-in for state attorney general worries that anti-Establishment fervor will undo all her dues paying.
I am guilty by association,” says Letitia James, weary in the broiling heat, as we sit on a park bench in Queens after a campaign stop at the Forest Hills Jewish Center. She has just given four elderly women playing mah-jongg a kiss, posed for pictures, and been endorsed by no fewer than 20 Democratic Party district leaders, city council members, and state legislators. James is the city’s public advocate—first in line to succeed the mayor—and was until recently considered a sure thing for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general. She has the support of nearly every labor union and every elected official in the state, including—and this is increasingly problematic, given how much the activist left now dislikes him—Governor Cuomo.
But now she’s fighting for her political life against Congressman Sean Maloney and the insurgent candidacy of Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who has cleverly found a way to use James’s long record and, more important, the warm embrace of the state’s political class against her. If Teachout wins, it might mean that the playbook for how to get elected in this state, and in this town, is no longer operable.
It’s a situation James finds disconcerting. “In May, I was the progressive darling, and now I am the Establishment,” she says. Switching to her habit of referring to herself in the third person, as if trying to gain some objectivity, she adds, “It is a case study about how the narrative has shifted about Tish James, about who she is and what she stands for.”
An aide brings a mango smoothie. James worries that she’s getting sick. (“I probably shouldn’t have kissed those ladies.”) The last few weeks have been a nonstop slog: three senior centers in the Bronx one day, a union hall in Mineola the next. Teachout, who admittedly is quite pregnant, has kept a less brutal statewide schedule.
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