Public Advocate Letitia James kicks off run for New York attorney general

JILLIAN JORGENSEN

Public Advocate Letitia James kicked off her campaign for state attorney general Wednesday at a rally surrounded by union leaders and elected city officials.

"New Yorkers deserve an attorney general who is unwavering in her fight to uphold and defend their most basic rights," James said. "And I promise all of you that I will never, ever waver in my fight to uphold and defend your basic rights."

James, who became the first black woman elected to citywide office, is seeking to take over the job vacated by Eric Schneiderman after four women alleged he had assaulted them.

New Yorkers find themselves "in a very precarious time in this country," James said.

"We should use the shield of the law to protect New Yorkers from the sword of injustice, and I will carry the mantle of the work of the current office and protect every New Yorker and follow the evidence and the law wherever it will lead us."

RELATED: Previous New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

James said she would "stand up to the forces in Washington" and take on corruption in government.

She was introduced by Stuart Appelbaum became President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, third in a line-up of labor leaders who spoke giving her their full-throated support.

"At a time when New Yorkers of every race, gender, age, religion and sexual orientation are facing attacks from the federal government like never before, when our institutions are roiled by corruption, misogyny and violence, we need new strong and qualified leadership at the attorney general's office to help restore faith and resist hate," Appelbaum said.

The labor leaders emerged in support of James as the Working Families Party, founded by labor unions — some of which have recently split from it — issued a statement blasting Gov. Cuomo for reportedly pressuring James for not seeking its endorsement.

James has been closer to the party than most officials — she won her first elected office running on the WFP line alone.

"It is nothing short of outrageous to see Andrew Cuomo demand Tish James jump through hoops that he would never ask a white man to do," the party said in a statement. "He is telling her to reject the party where she got her start, and refuse the WFP's support, which could be critical in both the primary and general elections. Meanwhile, he is helping elect Republicans to Congress by running on the Independence Party line."

Cuomo has long had a cool relationship with the party — Mayor de Blasio had to persuade them to endorse him in his last re-election bid — and fell out with them after their endorsement of his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon. Several labor unions followed suit and exited the party.

In a statement Wednesday morning, James' office had said she was focused on seeking the Democratic nomination.

James will not seek to be appointed by the State Legislature as interim attorney general.