Letitia James’s victory on Thursday in the Democratic primary for attorney general may well have gotten the 2021 race for mayor off to an early start.
If she wins in November, a special election would then be held to replace her as New York City public advocate — a position that has served as a potent launching pad for Ms. James and her predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Everybody’s going to come out of the woodwork for that!” said Laurie A. Cumbo, a city councilwoman from Brooklyn who has been a strong supporter of Ms. James. Ms. Cumbo may be one of the few Council members not contemplating a run for Ms. James’s job.
“I think there are going to be at least a dozen candidates running, probably more,” said Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, a Manhattan Democrat who acknowledged his own interest. He predicted it would be “a free-for-all,” adding, “It’s going to be very difficult to predict who’s going to win that race.”
Likely candidates include some 2021 mayoral hopefuls who may hope to emulate the path taken in 2013 by Mr. de Blasio. Among those who political insiders say have privately expressed interest or are considered likely are the former City Council speakers Melissa Mark-Viverito and Christine C. Quinn, and the Brooklyn borough president, Eric L. Adams.
“I keep my options open,” said Ms. Mark-Viverito, who was at Ms. James’s victory party in Brooklyn Thursday night. “I’ve always said if an opportunity became available, it’s something I would explore.”
If Ms. James defeats the Republican candidate, Keith Wofford, a Harvard-educated lawyer, she would be sworn in as attorney general on Jan. 1. Within three days Mayor Bill de Blasio would be required to set a date for a special election to fill the public advocate vacancy — most likely around mid-February, give or take two weeks.
The race would be a nonpartisan free for all: There would be no primary; anyone who can collect the required signatures can get on the ballot.
“I do think a lot of people would run for it,” Mr. de Blasio said on Thursday afternoon, speaking at a news conference where he discussed the primary election. “I think it’s something, whenever there’s an unusual change in the electoral calendar, a whole lot of pent-up ambition comes out.”
He also acknowledged that some candidates would view running for public advocate as a rehearsal for the 2021 mayoral campaign because it would give them exposure in a citywide race and, should they win, a higher profile as the mayor’s race approaches.
“I think it is obviously a place where you’re serving on a citywide level, and there’s a very natural argument that if you can get to a citywide platform and do good work then of course that has ramifications for the future,” Mr. de Blasio said.
Other possible candidates include a host of City Council members, most of whom are prevented by term limits from seeking re-election and so might be eager to find a new political landing spot. Among those who said they would consider running are the Democrats Robert E. Cornegy Jr., Rafael L. Espinal Jr., Antonio Reynoso, Donovan J. Richards, Ydanis Rodriguez and Ritchie Torres; and the Republicans Joseph Borelli and Eric A. Ulrich. Assemblyman Michael A. Blake, a Democrat, and Kirsten John Foy, an activist and a Pentecostal minister who is close to the Rev. Al Sharpton, have also been mentioned as possible candidates.
Jumaane D. Williams, a Democratic city councilman who lost a relatively close election on Thursday for lieutenant governor, might also be well positioned to run. He received more than 414,000 votes in New York City on Thursday, which is far more votes than any other of the likely candidates has ever received in an election.
The intense competition raised the prospect of politicians declaring their candidacy soon for an election that has not even been called.
Mr. Foy said that he was actively discussing a candidacy and expected to make a decision within days. “We’ll be ready to go right away,” he said.
Whoever wins a special election early next year would be guaranteed of serving only until Dec. 31. Under the law, primary elections would be held next September, followed by a general election in November; the victor would then serve out the rest of Ms. James’s term, which goes through 2021.
Presumably whoever wins the special election would be the favorite to win the general election. That person could, in theory, go on to serve an additional two terms, potentially creating a tenure of nearly 11 years as public advocate, a rarity in an age of term limits.
The public advocate, the second highest ranked elected official in New York City, is meant to be a watchdog over city government and an ombudsman to city residents; the advocate also has the ability to introduce legislation before the City Council and participate in Council hearings.
The city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, said that a special election for public advocate would provide an opportunity to reconsider the functions of the job; some government reformers have called for it to be abolished. A charter revision commission created by the City Council is in the process of reviewing many aspects of city government, and Mr. Stringer said that candidates should come up with proposals to make the position more relevant and effective.
“The office needs a redo,” Mr. Stringer said. “Any candidate that I would support should be prepared to come before the charter review commission to lay out a comprehensive agenda for the public advocate’s office.”