New York, NY – May 26, 2022: Attorney General Letitia James speaks during joint announcement with Mayor Eric Adams at AG New York office. (Shutterstock)
By Janet Howard
Letitia “Tish” James is an American lawyer, activist, politician, and currently New York’s Attorney General, the first African-American and first woman to be elected to the position. She has had many firsts and accolades. Before her current position, James served as a New York City Council member from 2004 to 2013. She represented the 35th district, which includes the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. James chaired the Economic Development and Sanitation Committees and served on several other committees. She was later the New York City Public Advocate from 2013 to 2018. As Public Advocate, she became the first African American woman to be elected to and hold citywide office in New York City. Her latest accolade was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People for 2022. James is an unstoppable force known for holding power accountable, standing up for the vulnerable, and fighting to make New York a fairer and more just place.
Listen to an interview with Attorney General Letitia James below:
Recently, Ms. James spoke to People, Power & Politics. Listen to the full interview at www.pppradio.nyc. Here is an excerpt Q&A of the conversation:
PPP: As you seek reelection, what can New Yorkers expect from you?
AG James: So, we still have ongoing work to do. It’s critically important that we continue to stand up, stand up to powerful interests on behalf of the vulnerable, continue our ongoing investigations, and have pending investigations into the Trump administration, Trump company, and the NRA. We are still looking at several developers and landlords who, unfortunately, have preyed upon low-income individuals in vulnerable communities. We still have to address the issue of the scourge of opioids, which has devastated communities throughout the state of New York as well as throughout the country. We also have to focus on vaping, ensuring our children are protected.
And last but not least, we’ve got to stand up against hate. As you know, we are investigating social media companies due to the horrific incidents in Buffalo, New York. My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected and who lost their lives due to the carnage in Buffalo, Uvalde, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
PPP: Yes. So, you have your work cut out for you, and we definitely need you in the office to continue doing the excellent job you’ve been doing. Since 2018, over 20 homeowners have been defrauded, according to an article by The City, in collaboration with our office. To date, they have not received justice. And we know that your office encourages persons to report consumer fraud to the bureau nearest them. However, this issue continues in our community without retribution for the victims. How does your office handle such matters? What is the process to get an investigation going by your office?
AG James: So, we’ve been investigating deed theft, which is happening in my beloved Brooklyn, especially throughout Central Brooklyn. Before the pandemic, as you know, we did some outreach. We went door to door. We will do it again in person. We’ve got pending cases in Brooklyn, we’ve got in Manhattan, and we have some in Queens. And we are seeking to reverse these illegal and fraudulent transfer deeds. If anyone has any specific cases or complaints, they should reach out to our office at 1-800-771-7755. Please reach out to our office so that we can investigate the alleged wrongdoing and see whether we can get justice for the victims. We were also instrumental in reforming the Lien Sale in New York City. And we do know that there were some challenges, and we are continuing to make sure that New York City gets it right. It was a priority of mine when I was a member of the City Council, as Public Advocate, and now as the Attorney General.
And it is also a priority of mine to focus on bad landlords. Individuals should be able to take care of their properties, those who violate the laws and who, unfortunately, allow individuals to live in conditions that affect their health and safety. Please report those types of cases to my office so that we can take action against these bad landlords because it’s critically important that they maintain their property and do not jeopardize their tenants’ health and wellbeing. And that includes but it’s not limited to children. Any lead violations, conditions, code violations, or maintenance violations, please call our office at 1-800-771-7755.
PPP: Public safety is a top priority for all New Yorkers. With the recent surge of violence and shootings in the subway and Buffalo, what are your plans to address gun violence at the state level?
AG James: Thank you for that question. It’s so critically important. To date, the Office of the Attorney General has removed over 30 guns off the streets of New York State. We’ve engaged and sponsored several gun buybacks with local authorities throughout the state of New York. We’re going to continue to do that. So, if there’s any organization, houses of faith, or community-based organizations that would like to join with us, we will do gun buybacks offering money or iPads to individuals to surrender their guns with no questions asked basically. Secondly, as you know, the state legislature, to their credit, created a statute that allows us to seek to file actions against gun manufacturers and gun distributors. The federal government, unfortunately, because they’re in the pockets of the gun lobbyists, basically has provided immunity to gun manufacturers and distributors. But here in New York, the state legislature has allowed me to pursue a case against gun manufacturers and distributors. So, stay tuned, and we’ll have more to report. We are also working with other attorney generals again to address the flow of guns that come into the state of New York along I-95, which is the iron pipeline.
So, we’re continuing to work with other attorney generals from other jurisdictions to stop the flow of guns that come up from the south, from states with lax gun laws and unfortunately caused carnage and death on the streets of New York City and New York State. We also have an Office of Criminal Task Force, an Organized Crime Task Force that works with law enforcement in the city and across the state. As we engage in takedowns of individuals who engage in gun and drug smuggling here in the state of New York, we’ve been very successful again in recovering and removing guns off the streets of New York. We will go to all ends to address gun violence and continue to work with all law enforcement officers, sharing data and working with them to stop the scourge of gun violence on the streets of New York City. One of the worst things as a public official is to attend the funeral of an individual who is the victim of gun violence. And I’m hoping that the United States Congress decides to step up and do something. Prayers alone will not do. It’s time that they do something, close the loopholes, and extend the age for individuals to get the XM-15, the guns of death.
It’s time that they provide background checks. It’s time that they prevent individuals who suffer from mental illness and individuals who have been convicted of domestic violence from getting guns. There needs to be a red flag law passed in this country. And I’m hoping and praying that this task force that has been formed, this bipartisan task force, gets it right and stands up on behalf of children as opposed to defending the rights of the gun lobbyists.
PPP: So, we know that New York is home to one of the biggest immigrant populations. We know that you and the Brooklyn District Attorney stood up for immigrants and stood up to ICE to keep them out of the courtrooms. What other ways are you fighting for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, to ensure the right to safety services and an equitable workplace?
AG James: Well, first, let me say we see an increase in hate, particularly against the immigrant community. And individuals must understand that if you are a victim of hate, you must come forward, that no one will ask you about your immigration status. That is critically important that you understand our priority is keeping you safe and protecting your rights. Two, as you know, under the former administration, the Trump administration, we continue to stand up for immigrants, defending the public charge, removing the citizenship question off of the census, removing ICE from our courtrooms, defending DACA, which was absolutely, really critically important, and making sure that individuals, the rights of immigrants were protected. And we will continue to do that. We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic that individuals were preying upon immigrants, and we also took action against individuals who were calling themselves attorneys when they were nothing more than a notary public. So, individuals must understand the Office of the Attorney General is here to serve, regardless of their immigration status. We do not ask that question. We only ask how we can serve you and get justice for you and your family.
PPP: So, we know that civil rights are always an issue. Concerns for communities of color and voting rights have been under attack. We’ve seen the new redistricting, and now the right to choose is hanging by a thread. Women are rising to the occasion in politics at different levels. As a woman and state Attorney General, what are your plans to ensure equality and justice for the next generation?
AG James: We saw the release of the brief opinion on Roe vs. Wade. And obviously, all of us are concerned. We’re all concerned because we recognize that this will impact women of color, low-income women of color, and immigrants in particular. We know that a ban will not stop abortions; a ban will only stop safe abortions. And individuals must stand up. We cannot allow ourselves to go back to when individuals had to go into dark places to get abortions, and they died. We know this decision will disproportionately affect low-income women and women of color. And that’s why we’ve got to stand up and demand that our rights are protected. And we’ve got to vote, vote, and vote in progressive individuals. And individuals will stand up for a woman’s right to choose because our economy will be affected and impacted if half of the nation has to leave work because they are carrying an unwanted pregnancy.
This is a difficult decision for countless Americans, but in New York, I want everyone to know that the right to safe abortion is in our law. We are hoping and praying that it will be enshrined in our Constitution. We will protect a woman’s right to choose or an individual’s right to carry, a woman’s or individual’s right to be pregnant at any point in time here in New York, and anyone from any of the 26 states. If they overturn Roe vs. Wade, 26 states will restrict the right to choose in this nation. I want them to know that New York is here with open arms, and we will be providing funding to abortion providers to assist individuals from those states with housing, child care, and transportation costs to come to New York to seek an abortion. That’s what we will do because we will be responsive to the needs of individuals, particularly individuals who recognize their rights are protected here in New York. We also know that we’ve got to stand up for the right to vote, which is also being trampled.
And we will protect the right to vote. As the Attorney General, I would join with other states, and we will file briefs supporting the right to choose. We will continue to challenge any restrictions or barriers to the fundamental and sacred right to choose, which is key to a functioning democracy. And I will do all I can to defend that right and not allow anyone to subvert that right, the right to vote, the right to privacy, and the right to have an abortion because they’re inextricably tied to one another. This is nothing more than an attempt to turn back the clock of progress for women and people of color. And that’s why we have to come out and vote in New York, all across this nation and recognize that the power for change in this nation lies in our hands.
PPP: So, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all New Yorkers. However, communities of color have been devastated and impacted the most from being on the front line as essential workers. The nursing home tragedy, facing economic hardship, foreclosures, and fraudulent schemes. What actions have your office taken to protect minorities? And can you discuss measures for the immediate future?
AG James: So, we have gone after bad actors who have preyed upon immigrants, who preyed upon low-income individuals during this pandemic, individuals who have sold all types of lotions and potions and cures to COVID-19, which have all been false. We’ve tried to take them all down. Individuals who have preyed upon senior citizens and some of our seniors, which is really critically important, individuals who have been offering all types of legal assistance, particularly to immigrants, knowing that they were not attorneys who can practice law in the state of New York. We have taken action against them. We have taken action against some businesses that have raised the price of food and essential products in the state of New York. They’ve engaged in price gouging. And we successfully worked with the state legislature to pass laws to expand our power to go after those who would engage in price gouging for essential products and, last but not least, working with labor. We were critical in standing up on behalf of essential workers and those individuals who were forced to go to work when the law protected their right to sick leave and to remain at home with their families.
PPP: You’ve had many successes as State Attorney General. Which case has touched you the most that you’ve been most proud of, and why?
AG James: I think the most impactful case is when we were able to work on deed theft, particularly in Brooklyn, Canarsie, Crown Heights, and parts of Bed-Stuy, and going door to door with volunteers who took time out of their busy schedules to do outreach and to reach out to vulnerable residents, particularly senior citizens. That was a time that I will always remember. It’s when we as a community came together and think about others before ourselves. That is what is so great about the office of Attorney General and what’s so great about New Yorkers in general.
We are here to serve, and no one in this office will ever ask anyone about their immigration status. Our job is to serve and stand up on behalf of New Yorkers in the name of sweet justice. Thank you so much.
Ms. James is a great person, a formidable candidate, and she is doing a hell of a job. We are proud to have supported her through all her campaigns. The Democratic Primary election is June 28, and she is without a challenger. She will be contested in the general election in November.