Mayor Urges James To Run For AG On Working Families Party Line

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Public Advocate Letitia James (l.) and Mayor de Blasio (Susan Watts/New York Daily News)

With Letitia James snubbing its nomination Saturday, the minor Working Families Party has been frantically trying to figure out who to back for attorney general, sources say — and Mayor de Blasio openly urged her to reconsider.

James, the city public advocate, said this week that she is focused on securing the Democratic nomination for state attorney general and would not seek the Working Families Party line at Saturday's nominating convention — a huge blow for the minor progressive party that has long considered her a close ally.

It's one that de Blasio, another ally of the party, urged her to rethink.

"My impression is that she has not made a decision that's final. I would certainly urge her to take the line," de Blasio said on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show. "I think it's an important line in the general election, and if she is the Democratic nominee she would want that line."

Barring a change of heart, the party will now likely choose between backing Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout or a placeholder in hopes that James agrees to accept the line after the September primary, insiders said.

Teachout - who is popular among the party's rank-and-file has put her name in for consideration at Saturday's convention, but some leaders, including party state director Bill Lipton, have argued it could be a mistake to back her despite her close relationship with the party, a source said.

Lipton, the source said, said the best option could be to nominate someone who can be easily replaced should James decide after the September Democratic primary that she would accept the Working Families Party nomination for the general election in November.

While saying she's focused on securing the Democratic nod, James never said she wouldn't accept the minor party's backing down the line.

James was first elected to the City Council on the WFP line alone, a major victory for the small party.

"This was the party that gave her a chance to run for the City Council originally, and she won just on their line," de Blasio noted Friday. "I think that's an important part of their history, helping good progressives who might not have won otherwise to have a chance to serve in public office."

At a press conference later Friday, de Blasio noted the more lines the better when running office.

"I don't sense she's closed any doors permanently here," he said. "I mean, most people who run for office in this state want as many lines as they can get."

Lipton and others within the party, sources say, believe running someone against James, looking to become the first black woman elected to statewide office, could alienate African-American liberals the Working Families Party is trying to cultivate.

Party co-chairwoman Karen Scharff wouldn't confirm or deny that Lipton believes the best option is to put a placeholder up for attorney general.

She said during discussions in recent days with party leaders, Lipton laid out various options and the results each could have.

Scharff said no decision has been made on how to proceed .

Teachout, who is also considering running a Democratic primary challenge, said she does not plan to withdraw her name from the Working Families Party convention Saturday.

"Lots of people ask me not to do lots of things, but that's never stopped me before," Teachout said.

She added that "I always support the Working Families Party. I get they are in a very tough position right now. I would love their support."

One source said the Working Families Party, which has been at war with Gov. Cuomo and seen almost all of its union funders leave, is in "meltdown mode."

"On the one hand they created Tish James, but they also created Zephyr Teachout," the source said. "For them to attempt to push Zephyr out of the running is the opposite of small 'd' democracy that the WFP purports to preach."

The Working Families Party was set to back Eric Schneiderman for a third term until the now disgraced attorney general abruptly resigned last week after a New Yorker magazine story detailed accusations that he physically abusing four women.

Meanwhile, James' decision to snub the party could also help Cuomo in his Democratic primary race with actress Cynthia Nixon, insiders say.

Nixon has been looking for a way to cut into Cuomo's support among black voters. But with James likely to endorse Cuomo and campaign with him, Nixon's effort has been dealt a blow, even some of her supporters acknowledge.