While New York’s political elite awaits some definitive word from Letitia James about whether she intends to run for governor next year, her campaign team is being less guarded.
In recent weeks, the team has made four significant new hires, most prominently Celinda Lake, the veteran Democratic strategist who served as one of the two lead pollsters for President Biden in the 2020 campaign, according to multiple people familiar with the hire and confirmed by one of the four people recently brought on board.
The addition of advisers like Ms. Lake, a longtime party pollster who has a background in electing female candidates, would strongly suggest that Ms. James is gearing up for a high-profile, competitive race — rather than focusing on her current run for re-election as state attorney general.
She has also hired Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a close ally and the co-founder of the group Higher Heights for America — a major organization dedicated to helping Black women win elected office — as a senior adviser and a campaign coordinator.
And she has brought on two operatives who have significant local and national fund-raising experience.
Ms. James is currently running for re-election as attorney general, but her campaign staff is expected to quickly transition to a run for governor if she ultimately challenges Gov. Kathy Hochul in what would be an expensive and historic Democratic primary contest.
Ms. Peeler-Allen confirmed the hires.
Ms. Hochul, the state’s first female governor, has moved aggressively to fund-raise and to secure endorsements around the state, including from people or political groups whose backing Ms. James and other potential candidates would also seem to covet: the president of the N.A.A.C.P. New York State Conference, for example, and Emily’s List, the fund-raising powerhouse focused on electing women who support abortion rights.
Some donors and elected officials have become increasingly anxious to know whether Ms. James will proceed with a bid for governor.
“People who like her, want her and are part of the entourage, if you will, would be there for her,” said Alan Rubin, a lobbyist in New York City who intends to back Ms. James if she runs and who believes she would be a strong fund-raiser. “I also think it’s getting to the point — I think it’s pretty obvious it’s getting to the point — where decisions need to be made.”
The new hires amount to the clearest indication yet that Ms. James is laying the groundwork to do so, though she could make a different final assessment.
Ms. James’s allies believe that while she has not historically been known as a strong fund-raiser, if she does run for governor, she could attract significant national interest, given her potential to be the first Black female governor in America. Her hires also reflect an intense focus on fund-raising.
She brought in Jenny Galvin, who has led fund-raising efforts for New York officials including Alvin Bragg, the likely next Manhattan district attorney; State Senator Alessandra Biaggi; and for the mayoral campaign of Scott M. Stringer, the New York City comptroller, in addition to national political fund-raising work.
Kristie Stiles has also joined Ms. James’s team. She is a veteran Democratic fund-raiser with deep experience in New York and on the national stage.
“She’s got a lot of great relationships with donors and she’s well-known,” Christopher G. Korge, the Democratic National Committee finance chairman, said of Ms. Stiles. “I think it adds some credibility from a fund-raising point of view to that operation.”
Former Representative Steve Israel, who worked with Ms. Stiles when he chaired the House Democratic campaign arm, called her “a name brand in political fund-raising.”
Ms. Galvin and Ms. Stiles will join David Mansur, a fund-raiser whose firm has worked for a number of prominent New York politicians. He led fund-raising efforts for Ms. James’s successful 2018 campaign for state attorney general and has remained engaged with her.
Ms. James’s moves come as other aspects of the New York governor’s race have begun to take shape. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams has started an official exploratory committee for governor.
Several other New York City-area Democrats are also looking at the race, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is a Brooklynite like Ms. James, and who has told associates that he is intending to jump in. Representative Thomas Suozzi of Queens and Long Island hopes to decide whether to proceed with an exploratory committee for governor by mid-November, according to people familiar with his thinking who were granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
In the meantime, Ms. James has maintained an intense public and private schedule: She has traveled the state in her official capacity as attorney general, she is speaking with county chairs and other local elected officials, and she is a fixture at New York City political events, like birthday parties and Democratic fund-raisers.
“That’s all anybody talks about,” said Keith L.T. Wright, the leader of the New York County Democrats, speaking of the governor’s race. “People are trying to assess the lay of the land, if you will, the lay of the political land. And they just want to know all the players before they make a decision.”
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