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Letitia James open to bail law changes amid voter disgust on crime

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has championed the controversial cashless bail law that critics say fed a spike in violent and other crimes, said she’s now open to changes to the measures.

The sudden shift in tone from James coincides with polls revealing voter disgust over surging crime as a top concern and her race for re-election against a Republican challenger — who she has out-fundraised by nearly 20-to-1 — grows tighter.

“We need to address a wide range of issues, including but not limited to looking at bail reform,” James told WGRZ in Buffalo this week.

“I understand the concern that individuals have. I understand the fear that they have, but we’ve got to work together and not politicize this very important issue.”

A Siena College Poll released Tuesday showed James ahead of largely unknown Republican rival Michael Henry by just 11 points, 51% to 40% — down from 16 points a few weeks ago. She won her first election as the state’s top law enforcement officer by 27 percentage points in 2018.

New York State Attorney General, Letitia James
James is currently seeking re-election, running against Republican candidate Michael Henry.
Eduardo Munoz/REUTERS

James had $2.75 million in cash on hand in her campaign treasury, according to the most recent report filed with the state Board of Elections. Henry’s campaign had a balance of $146,212.

James’ comments in Tuesday’s TV interview mark a shift from what she said in an endorsement questionnaire submitted to the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic LGBT Club just back in May.

She said then that legislators should be “resisting the urge to overreact to spikes in crime” — by tightening the bail law without credible data.

Michael Henry
Henry is trailing behind James by 11 points, according to a Sienna College Poll.
Dennis A. Clark

“We must follow the data and really look at it from an analytical perspective. That means ensuring we are resisting the urge to overreact to spikes in crime that have occurred during this pandemic, without dismissing them outright,” James said.

“The challenge we have faced is getting accurate and complete data. The state Office of Court Administration released data at the end of December and had to immediately revise those numbers, which shows that we don’t yet have all of the information we need to guide us to a proper decision.”

James did say then she would pay “close attention” and work with the legislature to “make sure we are getting it right.”

bail bonds sign
The controversial bail laws have been a topic of discussion as James is up for reelection.
Kathy Willens/AP

But when she first ran for AG in 2018, James tweeted , “As AG I’ll work to eliminate cash bail in NY. We’ll introduce legislation to replace it w/ a more just system that doesn’t punish poverty or discriminate against people of color.”

Henry, her GOP opponent, pounced on the bail law waffle, saying, “New Yorkers do not trust flip-flopping Letitia James and they will dismiss Tish on Nov. 8.”

“In 2018, Letitia James campaigned on cashless bail and got what she wanted — and it failed. Then she claimed she needed more data as New Yorkers watch in horror as violent and repeat criminals victimize our neighbors.”

He slammed James for accepting the backing of the leftist Working Families Party endorsement. The WFP supports defunding the police and opposes rollbacks to bail reform.

“Letitia James has proven again that she only cares about herself and her political career,” said Henry.

Most of the police unions endorsed Henry, saying James has not been a friend of law enforcement and has been largely silent during the debate over changing the bail law.

Henry supports repeal of the cashless bail law and imposing a standard to give judges discretion to post bail or detain defendants deemed dangerous.

In the interview with the Buffalo station on Tuesday, James also said bail reform must be discussed with other measures to reduce and prevent crime.

“We cannot incarcerate our way out of public safety,” James said. “We’ve got to prevent it.”

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