Letitia A. "Tish" James (born October 18, 1958) is an American lawyer, activist, and politician in the Democratic Party. She is the current and fourth New York City Public Advocate and first African American woman to hold citywide office. She previously served as a member of the New York City Council, representing Brooklyn's 35th Council District, which includes the neighborhoods of Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. James has also chaired the Economic Development and Sanitation Committees, and serves on the committees for Parks & Recreation, Small Business, Technology in Government, Veteran Affairs, and Women's Issues.
In 2013, James ran for New York City Public Advocate and received 36% of the vote in the first Democratic primary, under the 40% threshold to avoid a runoff election. However, James won the Democratic runoff on October 1, 2013 against Daniel Squadron, 59%–41%, becoming the party's nominee for the city's elected watchdog position in November. Without a Republican opponent, James subsequently won the general election with over 83% of the vote.
Early life and education
James was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Nellie and Robert James. She attended New York City public schools and received her B.A. from the City University of New York's Lehman College in 1981.
James graduated from the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. and was admitted to practice law in New York state in 1989. She is attending 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. In 1994, she promoted the Primary Health Case Development Bill in the City Council, which expanded day care resources for working families across the city. In 1996, James negotiated the Welfare Reform Act on behalf of the New York State Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
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, another politician. Following the tragic event, Davis's brother, Geoffrey, had decided he was going to take over the Council seat running on the Democratic platform, but on election day, November 4, Geoffrey Davis lost by a large margin to James as the Working Families Party nominee. During her 2003 race, James officially became a member of the Working Families Party, and was the first city-wide office-holder who ran 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.) In 2005, James became involved in advocating against the proposed Brooklyn Nets Arena in her district, this was a case that put her against her Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Marty Markowitz and developer Bruce Ratner. James opposed the use of eminent domain to evict her constituents, selling the MTA's Atlantic Yards property below its market value, and keeping the planning of the project away from the New York City Council. Bertha Lewis, a founder of the Working Families Party and the New York City affiliate of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), on the other hand, endorsed the stadium development once Ratner accepted her plan for affordable housing.
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.
James was the sponsor of New York law 2007/29, which addressed the Alternative Enforcement Program by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and violations of the housing maintenance code and multiple dwelling law; and 2008/004, which addressed the availability of Child Health Plus laws in day cares.
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.
With New York State Senator Eric Adams, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, and NY city councilman Jumaane Williams, James called upon Mayor Bloomberg to investigate systemic corruption in the NYPD in November 2011. She was also one of four councilmembers to sue the NYPD over its treatment of protesters at Occupy Wall Street.
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.
- Committee on Economic Development (chair)
- Committee on Sanitation (chair)
- Committee on Parks & Recreation
- Committee on Small Business
- Committee on Technology in Government
- Committee on Veteran Affairs
- Committee on Women's Issues
Race for NYC Public Advocate
In the 2013 election campaign for Public Advocate, James was endorsed by many of the city's important labor unions, NOW, Planned Parenthood, Democracy for NYC, League of Conservation Voters, Amsterdam News and El Diario. James accomplished her first-place finish in spite of her campaign trailing Daniel Squadron's and Reshma Saujani's, in fundraising. She was endorsed by third-place finisher Saujani on September 17 and subsequently won the run-off. In the general election in November 2013 she won with 83.55% of the vote (78.02% on the Democratic Party line and 5.53% on the Working Families Party line) with no Republican opponent.