New York State voters find themselves within the throes of an election season, as a number of national and statewide races populate the political fabric on all fronts.

While there are many important races to keep an eye on, one in particular should not get overlooked: the race for state attorney general.

Before getting into the candidates, let’s answer the question, ‘What does the attorney general do?’
Simply put, the attorney general is the official lawyer for the citizens of New York state, also fondly referred to as the ‘People’s Lawyer.’

A de facto definition on the office’s website says the attorney general “serves as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens of New York, its organizations and its natural resources.”

As defender and protector of the rights and interests of the state, the attorney general is similarly no stranger to taking on the federal government. The attorney general also serves as a counsel to the governor, and may be tasked with investigations, and or asked to take on cases at the executive branch’s bequest.
Certain office holders have elevated the role’s profile in years past, and in doing so, simultaneously bolstered their political careers. Eliot Spitzer took on Wall Street corruption, fighting against fraudulent financial schemes, significantly expanding the expectations of what can be expected of the office. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was also the state’s top legal officer, a role that would eventually propel him into the Executive Mansion.
The post’s most recent occupant, Eric Schneiderman, abruptly resigned in May 2017 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Schneiderman used his position to take on the Trump administration, taking action against policies like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, arguing that the SALT cap would deliver a devastating blow to New Yorkers.
The job is currently held by Barbara Underwood, the former state solicitor general who assumed the role following Schneiderman’s resignation after being appointed by the Legislature. Underwood declined to run for the post, promising to step down once a candidate is elected.

So who is running?

On the Democratic side, the four contenders include: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Hudson Valley Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and ex-Cuomo economic development aide Leecia Eve.

James has been endorsed by Cuomo and much of the state’s Democratic Party establishment. During May’s State Democratic Convention, her candidacy was embraced with open arms. She’s since raked in a number of notable endorsements from unions and progressive groups. Results from a July Siena poll showed her leading the other candidates, but a caveat remains: she’s virtually unknown to upstate voters and has little campaign cash.

Maloney represents New York’s 18th District. He’s a former Clinton staffer and the first openly gay member of Congress to represent New York. This is his second bid for attorney general; he ran unsuccessfully in 2006, losing the nomination to Cuomo. Maloney boasts an impressive campaign finance arsenal, reportedly raising $500,000 within the first week of officially announcing his candidacy. Maloney simultaneously finds himself running for re-election for his current job in the 18th.

Teachout — the Fordham Law School Professor who bested Cuomo in majority of the Capital Region counties in her unsuccessful primary bid for Governor in 2014 — is touting her commitment to being independent from the Governor, her refusal to take corporate donations and her intention to hold the Trump administration accountable. Teachout garnered an endorsement from the New York Times editorial board, and has been embraced by members several newer members of the progressive left, such as Democratic congressional candidate in New York’s 14th District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Eve, a former vice president for government affairs at Verizon, is no stranger to the political realm. The Buffalo native worked with the Senators Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden, and formerly worked under Cuomo. But Eve has been strangely absent from the campaign trail, making few public appearances and saying little to reporters.

One aspect dogging the candidates is that of independence from the Governor, a challenge built in to the nature of the office, as per the aforementioned inextricable ties to the executive branch. Nonetheless, all four of Democrats have insisted their commitment to acting independently.

The victor of the Sept. 13 primary election will faceoff with the only Republican in the race, Keith Wofford. Wofford is a partner at New York City based firm Ropes & Gray, although he is currently taking a leaving of absence due to the campaign. The contest is his first bid for elected office.

The general election is Nov. 6.