Letitia Ann "Tish" James is an American lawyer, activist, and politician. She is a member of the Democratic Party and the current attorney general of New York, having won the 2018 election to succeed appointed attorney general Barbara Underwood. She is the first African-American and the first woman to be elected to the position.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, James obtained her J.D. degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C., after graduating from Lehman College in The Bronx. She worked as a public defender, then on staff in the New York State Assembly, and later as an Assistant Attorney General.
James served as a member of the New York City Council 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.
Early life and education
Letitia Ann James was born on October 18, 1958, in Brooklyn, New York. She is one of eight children born to Nellie James, born in Martinsville, Virginia, in 1919, and Robert James. She attended New York City public schools. Raised in Park Slope, Brooklyn, she attended Fort Hamilton High School. She received her B.A. from the City University of New York's Lehman College in 1981, after majoring in liberal arts with an emphasis on social work.
She received her J.D. degree from Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., and was admitted to practice law in New York State in 1989. In 2013, James attended the Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs for a degree in Master of Public Administration.
James served as a public defender for the Legal Aid Society and established the Urban Network, a coalition of African American professional organizations aimed at providing scholarships for young people.
She served on former New York Governor Mario Cuomo's Task Force on Diversity in the Judiciary. She served as counsel for Albert Vann, Chief of Staff for Roger L. Green in the New York State Assembly, and in the administration of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. She was appointed the first Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Brooklyn regional office in 1999. While working in that position, James worked in many capacities but notably focused on consumer complaints involving predatory lending and other unlawful business practices.
2001 and 2003 City Council races
James' first run for the 35th Council district was in November 2001. In a close race, James received 42% of the vote on the Working Families Party line but lost to James E. Davis, a Democrat. In July 2003, just months before the next election, Davis was assassinated by Othniel Askew, a former political rival. Following Davis's death, his brother Geoffrey ran for his vacant Council seat on the Democratic Party ticket, but on election day, November 4, 2003, Geoffrey A. Davis lost by a large margin to James as the Working Families Party nominee. In that 2003 race James officially became a member of the Working Families Party, and was the first citywide office-holder to run solely on the WFP line.
City Council tenure
James is the first member of the Working Families Party to win office in New York State, and the first third-party member to be elected to the city council since 1977. She has since changed back to the Democratic party.
James again won the Working Families and the Democratic parties' nominations by a large margin over Samuel Eric Blackwell, an urban planner at Long Island University and pro-stadium advocate. She was re-elected on the Democratic line on November 8, 2005, with 88.11% of the vote, compared to 6.80% for Republican Anthony Herbert, and 5.08% for Independence Party candidate Charles B. Billups.
On October 10, 2006, there was a devastating fire at the Broken Angel House, an architectural icon in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The fire attracted attention from the New York City Department of Buildings, which resulted in the citation of numerous building code violations. James represented Broken Angel's owner, Arthur Wood, pro bono in his negotiations to keep his home. The agency decided to allow Wood to re-occupy Broken Angel provided the upper levels were taken down and the central stairwell reconstructed.
She was the first to question cost overruns and irregularities in the subcontracting work of the new CityTime payroll system much touted by Bloomberg which eventually led to several indictments, Bloomberg asking a tech giant for $600 million back, and two consultants fleeing the country in 2011.
James originally advocated for the demolition of the Second Empire houses on Admiral's Row in order to build a parking lot for a proposed supermarket to serve residents in nearby housing developments, but later supported preserving some of the historic housing. In 2008, James, with Bill de Blasio, advocated against Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempts to seek a third term without a voter referendum.
James won the Democratic primary in September 2009 against her opponents, community organizer Delia Hunley-Adossa, who received more than $200,000 from Forest City Ratner and Medhanie Estiphanos, a financial consultant. James went on to win re-election for a second term.
In May 2013, with a group that included construction unions, community groups and other elected officials, she was a part of an Article 78 lawsuit against the Bloomberg administration and Acadia Realty Trust seeking the shut-down of the City Point real estate project and a reassessment of its environmental impact.
In June 2016, James attempted to pressure six financial institutions, including BB&T, Berkshire Bank, Citizens Financial Group, People's United Bank, Regions Financial Corporation and TD Bank, into ending its practice of providing financial services to gun manufacturers. BB&T was specifically requested to drop the accounts of SIG Sauer of New Hampshire, but denied the request.
James lives in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn and is a member of the Emmanuel Baptist Church. She has never been married.