NEW YORK (AP) — New York City Public Advocate Letitia James won a Democratic primary for attorney general in New York on Thursday, beating three other candidates in a race that amounted to a competition over who could best use the office to antagonize President Donald Trump.
"We are in the middle of a fight to save our democracy," James told supporters in Brooklyn. "Let's party tonight and then we've got some work to do tomorrow."
James, 59, would become the first black woman to hold a statewide elected office in New York if she prevails in the general election, where she will be heavily favored. Trump nemesis Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, abruptly resigned from the post in May amid allegations he physically abused women he dated.
James defeated a deep field of fellow Democrats: U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout and former Hillary Clinton adviser Leecia Eve. She said she wouldn't let campaign rivalries get in the way of their friendships or impede their ability to work together to keep Trump in check.
"This campaign was really never about me, or any of the candidates who ran," James said. "It was about the people, but most importantly it was about that man in the White House who can't go a day without threatening our fundamental rights, can't go a day without threatening the rights of immigrants, can't go a day without dividing us."
New York's attorney general has long had an unusual role as a regulator of Wall Street and an occasional prosecutor of the rich and powerful. The office also recently opened an investigation of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. But in this contest, Trump emerged as the common foe among all the candidates.
"The law has been the firmest pillar of our democracy and right now our democracy is under attack and when you're under attack as I have consistently said, you got to stand up and you got to fight back, but you got to fight back with a leader, and that's me," James, a Brooklyn native and Howard University law graduate, said on the campaign trail.
The winner in November will inherit several pending lawsuits filed by the state that challenge Trump's policies and accuse his charitable foundation of breaking the law.
James faces little-known New York City lawyer Keith Wofford, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, in the general election in November.
Wofford, in a statement, criticized James as a "career politician" who will "uphold the corrupt status-quo." He pitched himself as an "independent outsider" and said he'd do what's in the state's best interests.
James served as New York City's elected public advocate after a decade on the city council and stints as a public defender and assistant attorney general. She was an early favorite in a race that tightened over the summer, picking up endorsements from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and several powerful unions. Rapper Nicki Minaj plugged her on Twitter the night before the election.
As public advocate, James said she transformed the office from its traditional role as an ombudsman on issues of public concern to a "mini-legal services slash attorney general's office."
She lobbied for police officers to wear body cameras and for special prosecutors to be appointed in police misconduct cases. Her office maintains a list of the "worst landlords" in the city and has pushed to expand tenant protections.
James entered her victory party to the sounds of a DJ playing "All the Way Up" by Fat Joe and Remy Ma. She dedicated her victory to "every little girl who has been told she cannot change the world" and singled out an 87-year-old supporter who cast her first vote decades ago in the Jim Crow south.
If James wins in November, she would also become the first woman elected attorney general, though not the first to hold the job.
New York's current attorney general, Democrat Barbara Underwood, was appointed to replace Schneiderman. She declined to run for election.
Underwood congratulated the candidates in a tweet before the polls closed for showing they "believe in the power of this office" and giving voters "a choice for the future."
"After the events of this year, I hope it is clear to everyone that this office is the sum of all its staff," Underwood tweeted. "I am so proud to be your AG."
Trump's lawyers have argued that the attorney general's office was unfairly politicized under Underwood and Schneiderman.
The adversarial relationship dates back to 2012, when Schneiderman sued Trump University, claiming the school defrauded students. Trump settled litigation related to the school for $25 million, saying he was doing so only so he could keep his attention focused on national issues.
In defending the state's lawsuit against the Trump Foundation, Trump's lawyers said New York built its case on minor, unintentional bookkeeping violations and unnecessarily blocked the charity from shutting down simply so it could continue to assail it in court.
The legal sparring is likely to continue. The attorney general's office has lawsuits pending against the Trump administration policies on health care, guns, immigration and the environment.
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