Letitia James, NY Attorney General

Understanding my professional life involved ambitious efforts to achieve educational pursuits and jobs defining who I was, where I was, and how I was. Recognizing the life and times of Letitia James, who came along a decade later  deserves recognition for her accomplishments. It is important to acknowledge her path to a stellar career, which James is enjoying. 

Born in 1958 as a baby boomer Letitia James, one of eight children grew up during the heart of the Civil rights movement. Though a northerner residing with parents in Park Slope, Brooklyn, she was not far from the cultural heartbeat of Harlem. At that time, staying focused and getting your education was the message sent from our leadership to many black parents. Multiple degrees reflected the desire to obtain knowledge, so ‘no one could take that from you’ and a guarantee to good jobs and a better life. That was the mantra representing the legal work done to the ‘opening door’ strategy of the Cilvil Rights Movement. 

The importance of becoming attorney general of New York, a major accomplishment, was a likely step towards her ambition of running for Governor. This dream was deferred despite her AG office investigations highlighting flaws or willful wielding of power by the then Governor, Andrew Cuomo forcing his resignation. Despite his famous father in the same role, Andrew was found negligent in behaviors towards public servants working under his leadership. He faced charges of sexual harassment from at least eleven (11) women.

The complaints generated an independent investigation into Cuomo’s leadership leading to fall from grace thereby opening up that position to lieutenant Governor, a woman and a first.  Democratic Party support for the appointed Governor, shifted Letitia’s aspirations based on limited fund raising and no endorsement from her Brooklyn power base.  Many preferred she run again as attorney general and finish the work of deposing Trump to testify in a civil lawsuit challenging his accountability for improper reporting of a higher asset value claim when seeking valuations and offering a lower property value when reporting taxes. This discrepancy has raised questions about his companies financial reporting. As of December 29, 2021, Trump’s lawsuit against the Attorney General’s office is designed to freeze further interrogation that could lead from civil to criminal liabilities.  AG James, had already shown the grit of her office in dissolving the NRA (National Rifle Association) and the Trump Foundation whereby fundraising was used for acquisition of personal wealth instead of legitimate organization expenditures. Trump’s filing a lawsuit against her AG office begs the point of her remaining attorney general for seeking re-election thus giving continuity in dealing with Trump.

James began undergraduate school at CUNY or City University of New York at Lehman college in the Bronx. Her JD status was inspired by seeking a school that she saw as going into the ‘laboratory for the civil right movement.’ Letitia James consciously chose legacy and tradition for her Law degree. “Howard University taught me to speak truth to power and to dismantle barriers – this is critically important, … it is Howard which provides me with my voice and confidence, …the reason I’m the attorney general for the state of New York.” James value system shaped her narrative during her tenure at Howard. Her attitude about the importance of ‘measurable progression’, ‘being an agent of change’, standing up for the ‘vulnerable, marginal’ and a long list of neighborhood issues: homelessness, home affordability, childcare, ‘opportunity gap’ and more are drivers of her energy to affect people’s lives. (Ramsey Smith media contact. Comments from James as guest on KingLectureSeries April 2019)

To achieve this life of purpose, ‘raison d’etre’, she returned home starting her career as a public defender for the Legal Aid Society and a job inside the NY Attorney General’s Brooklyn Office. She added capacity to her skill set by obtaining a Masters of Public Administration from Columbia University. Her next move was entering politics by running for office and being elected as 35th Council District Representative, a part of a 51 member New Your City Council. Bill de Blasio was president of the city Council or elected as the Public Advocate. After serving for nine (9) years 2004-2013, Letitia James followed in de Blasio’s path and become New York City’s Public Advocate for four (4)years or from 2014-2018. That city wide support was a stepping stone to run for the state wide office of Attorney General which she accomplished in 2019. This win made her the first black woman and 67th person to hold that office. It appears that her values, education, experience and timing are aligned for her to seek re-election as attorney general of New York. 

Letitia inherited a historically aggressive attorney general office promising accountability. So far she has delivered and her constituents wants her to keep bringing her leadership, values, passion, professionalism, commitment, integrity, soft spoken charm, and willingness to be a model public servant for the state of New York. No question about her being recognized as effective and strong in her challenge to take on corruption, Trump, women rights, civil rights and upholding of democracy. She does all this with well articulated intent of clarity and passion. We appreciate you Letitia James. 

Art and Article by Lillian L. Thompson, https://lillianonline.us December 30, 2021