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Who’s Running for Attorney General in New York? It’s a Crowded Field.

December 3, 2021 Rachel Holliday Smith, THE CITY
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With New York’s top job up for grabs after Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, state elections coming up next year are shaping up as a high-stakes round of musical chairs — and attorney general is a coveted seat.

When Cuomo stepped down as governor, it created a power vacuum not seen in New York since Eliot Spitzer’s resignation from the same job in 2008. After Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul replaced Cuomo, Letitia James, current attorney general, announced she would run for governor. And now the AG race is as crowded as the campaign to fill the Executive Mansion.

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As of late-November, eight people, five Democrats and three Republicans, have filed with the state Board of Elections to start campaigning for the state’ top legal job.

Even more are considering running. THE CITY reported that Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is giving serious thought to tossing his hat in the ring. Also reportedly mulling joining the fray are State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Long Island).

We’ll keep updating this election guide as the campaign forges ahead. But first, let’s go over some basics.

Democratic State Senator Shelly Mayer.
NY State Senate Photo

What is an AG, and what do they do?

The attorney general is the highest legal officer for the state, serving as a top prosecutor but also an advocate for New Yorkers in general.

The AG oversees 1,800 employees, including about 700 lawyers who work on a wide array of cases. Their work can touch on anything from wage theft to consumer protection to investigating dubious charitable groups.

The office also runs specialized task forces, including units to tackle organized crime and Medicaid fraud.

The role also serves as New York’s counsel in state and federal courts and brings lawsuits on behalf of the state, if necessary — such as when then-AG Barbara Underwood sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation in 2018, or when James sued to dissolve the National Rifle Association earlier this year.

The AG’s office continues to investigate the Trump Foundation, and has since merged its work with a criminal probe of the former president by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who is set to be succeeded Jan. 1 by Alvin Bragg. Whoever takes over from James could very well wind up overseeing that effort.

In theory, the attorney general’s office works independently from the governor or any other department. But the AG still needs a referral, or permission letter, to start certain types of special counsel investigations, as it did when James investigated Cuomo this year and produced the report that spurred his resignation.

To maintain the independence of the office, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Island) introduced a bill in March to do away with that referral requirement.

Former federal prosecutor Dan Goldman.
Photo courtesy of THE CITY

Who Is Running? 

DEMOCRATS

Dan Goldman: He’s a former federal prosecutor who worked under then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York’s Southern District before becoming general counsel to the House Intelligence Committee. There, he led the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump. He told the Daily News the crux of the AG’s role is “holding the privileged and powerful accountable.”

Shelley Mayer: She’s represented Westchester in the State Senate since 2018 and before that in the Assembly since 2012. Previous to serving in the legislature, she held a number of jobs in government, including as assistant attorney general in the 1980s and 1990s. She told the Westchester Journal News that it’s her “life’s dream” to serve as attorney general.

Zephyr Teachout: She’s once again running for AG after losing that race in 2018 running a progressive, anti-corruption-centered campaign. A former gubernatorial candidate, the professor, author and lawyer called being the state attorney general “the best legal job in the country for people’s lawyering,” in a November interview with The New York Times.

Clyde Vanel: He’s an entrepreneur and lawyer who has represented southeastern Queens in the State Assembly since 2017. Before holding office, the Cambria Heights native owned a Lower Manhattan restaurant, ran a trademarking services company and became an aircraft pilot. He has said he’s running to fight banks and lenders who have “refused to work with minority neighborhoods” struggling with widespread foreclosure.

Maria Vullo: She served as New York State’s lead financial regulator as the superintendent of the Department of Financial Services from 2016 to 2019. Previous to that, she spent 20 years as a trial litigator. She currently teaches law at Fordham University’s law school.

REPUBLICANS

Michael Henry: He’s a commercial litigator from Queens who declared he would run against James this summer — before she announced her own run for governor. He believes she’s made it “harder for law enforcement to do their jobs,” he told the Daily News, and said she did not do enough to hold Cuomo accountable on nursing home deaths from COVID-19.

Joseph Holland: He’s an attorney, author and real estate developer who briefly served as commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Renewal during the Pataki administration. Holland previously ran for attorney general ahead of the 2018 Republican primary, but ultimately withdrew.

John Sarcone: He’s a litigator from the Hudson Valley who has served as town attorney in Westchester and Orange counties. He also runs his own private practice. Sarcone is running to address “a public safety crisis in our state” and against “defunding the police,” he said at a November campaign launch event.

When does this matter?

You’ll still have some time to mull over all these choices and learn more about the candidates before you vote. The general election will be on Nov. 8, 2022, following a June primary whose exact date is still to be determined.

We’ll be updating this guide as developments merit, and stay in the loop on other election news this cycle by signing up for our Civic Newsletter.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.


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