ALBANY — Looking to expand beyond her Brooklyn base, associates of gubernatorial hopeful state Attorney General Letitia James have quietly started vetting potential running mates for 2022 — and it looks like Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is leading the pack, sources told The Post.
Bellone met privately with James’ advisors in San Juan, Puerto Rico during the SOMOS political conference at the beginning of November, according to a Democratic source briefed on the meeting.
“It was a good meeting with Team Tish talking about issues related to the campaign, but also about who Steve is and what his values are. It touched on potential interest, but it didn’t get into actual negotiations. It was a good first step in building a relationship,” said the source.
Although James was not present, both parties agreed to “stay in touch” about next steps, the source said.
Sources said the outreach is in its beginning stages.
Bellone, meanwhile, has said he’s interested in his own potential bid as a statewide candidate for governor in 2022.
“Bellone has nothing to lose,” longtime political strategist Hank Sheinkopf told The Post, noting the Democrat will be looking for a job come 2023, as he is term limited. Suffolk County has a rule that says countywide elected officials can only serve a maximum of 12 consecutive years. Bellone was re-elected to a third term in 2019.
“The James campaign is playing a geographic campaign. There’s too many Brooklyn-based candidates in the race right now. She needs to win the suburbs, and her best shot is Long Island,” he said.
“Crime will be the issue, and Bellone, by definition as an Italian Catholic, brings a somewhat more conservative, pro-law enforcement patina,” he added.
A Bellone spokesman declined to comment when contacted by The Post.
A red wave swept Long Island in the recent election in response to backlash over the state’s controversial bail reform laws — as Republican candidates for both Nassau and Suffolk district attorney beat their Democratic opponents and incumbent Democratic County Executive Laura Curran lost her job to Bruce Blakeman, a GOP county legislator.
But Bellone has sported a pro-cop stance and opposes the “Defund the Police” movement. He also recently announced Suffolk is hiring over 700 law enforcement officers under a new law enforcement initiative.
It’s also a direct contrast to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s intended 2022 running mate — New York’s current Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, who has publicly proclaimed he’s supportive of the “Defund” movement.
Meanwhile, sources said and News 12 first reported Westchester’s Democratic County Executive George Latimer is also in the running for James’ LG.
James spent election night with the pol, celebrating his re-election victory and proclaiming: “I love George Latimer.”
State Sen. James Skoufis (D-Newburgh) is also interested in the position, according to a second Democratic source who said the pol was first contacted in mid-October by at least two individuals in James’ circle.
“[He’s] young, strong fundraiser, relationships in both legislative chambers and knows how to win. He would be a strong choice,” said the source.
Skoufis was first elected to the state Senate in 2018 and before that served six years in the state Assembly.
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick is also on the shortlist, according to two sources.
First elected in 2012 as the city’s youngest mayor, he’s also Ithaca’s first mayor of color.
James joined the progressive Democrat during a public press conference on Oct. 13 as part of her ‘HealNY’ tour to distribute settlement money to communities ravaged by the opioid epidemic.
She inquired about the pol’s “future” and “what could come next,” according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.
James officially announced in October that she’s running against Hochul next year,
The AG sunk disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s career with the release of her bombshell Aug. 3 sexual harassment report which concluded he sexually harassed 11 women and broke multiple state and federal laws.
Since then Cuomo and his allies have attempted to undermine her office’s findings, arguing because she sought higher office the report was tainted from the start.
James has denied the criticisms, arguing her office in conjunction with independent investigators Joon Kim and Anne Clark operated in a non-political fashion.
A rep for James could not be reached for an immediate comment by The Post.