New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams announced on Tuesday he is running for governor, joining a Democratic primary that already includes Gov. Kathy Hochul, who replaced Andrew Cuomo following his resignation this summer, and New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Williams, who was re-elected to his current post two weeks ago with more than two-thirds of the vote and previously served on the city council, is a progressive favorite from Brooklyn. In 2018, he was defeated by Hochul in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in a surprisingly close race.
In a video declaring his candidacy, Williams highlighted his activism — leading protest movements against police abuse and deportations — and touted his record passing legislation as public advocate.
“Right now, our state needs to move forward: from a pandemic, from an era of scandal, and from old ways of governing that have failed so many for so long,” Williams says.
Williams joins Hochul, a native of Western New York, and James, another New York City-based progressive leader, in a field that is expected to grow over the coming months, with a pair of moderates from Long Island, New York Rep. Tom Suozzi and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, also rumored to be considering bids. Outgoing New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is also testing the waters ahead of a potential run.
Williams, were he to win, would be the second Black man to lead New York, but the first to be elected to the office. James would be the first Black woman elected governor of New York or any other state.
The contest opened up after Cuomo, who faced accusations of sexual harassment from multiple women, resigned in August. His departure, which came as he faced impeachment in the state legislature, was hastened by the release of an investigation by James, who detailed 11 credible allegations against him. (Cuomo has denied all the allegations against him.)
In New York City progressive circles, Williams’ entry could create divisions among leading organizations and activist groups. Both he and James, who previously served as public advocate, have close connections to a grassroots that had spent much of the last decade warring with Cuomo and is keen to elect an ally to the state’s highest post.
The first major challenge facing Williams will come in raising enough money to mount a vigorous statewide campaign. His 2018 bid for lieutenant governor benefited from progressive anger over Cuomo, who was facing a longshot challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon. Williams will attempt to leverage the relationships he made across the state during that campaign.
For now though, he will rely on small dollar contributions and hope to emerge from the early stages of the race — the primary vote is in June — as Hochul, who has spent large chunks of her short time as governor building relationships in and around New York City, seeks to consolidate large donors, and James tries to lock down the support of larger liberal groups and city labor unions who have supported her in the past.
Williams, in the video kicking off his campaign, begins by speaking about his life as an activist and his diagnosis with Tourette Syndrome and ADHD as a teenager.
“My Tourette’s has never defined me, but it has represented a truth about my life and my work. I’m always moving,” he says. “When you’re an activist, moving is a mantra, a means of creating change.”
Shortly after Williams made his run official, the James campaign issued a friendly statement greeting its newest rival.
“Throughout his career, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has been an important leader on issues from police reform to housing and we welcome him to the race,” the campaign said, before highlighting the early support for her “historic candidacy for governor.”
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