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Women's History Month 2014: Public Advocate Letitia James Makes History in City Politics

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As NY1 continues its Women's History Month series, we take a look at Brooklyn native and Public Advocate Letitia James, who has broken the ceiling in city politics. NY1's Jeanine Ramirez filed the following report.

Letitia James made history not once, but twice. As public advocate, she is the first woman of color to hold a citywide office. In her previous position as city councilwoman, she was the first Working Families Party candidate to win on that line alone.

As James goes down in the history books, she wants to be known as a champion.

"Someone who was unbought and unbossed, and someone who fought for social justice in the city of New York, and someone who stood up for those voices who have historically been ignored for far too long," she said .

One of the issues she champions is affordable housing. As city councilwoman, James fought against the Atlantic Yards project that brought an arena and no housing yet. At her inauguration for public advocate she held the hand of Dasani Coates, a 12-year-old homeless girl in the shelter system. James said it was symbolic because she was once homeless, too.

"My family, we were displaced. We were evicted, yes. I did not go in a shelter, but we were homeless and our family was separated. Some of my family members went to Queens and some other members went to Brooklyn. We were all over the place," she said.

James has seven siblings. She said that one was falsely arrested when they were young, and that's what prompted her to study law.

"My mom took me down to court at a young age and I remember everyone in the courtroom did not look like me. I remember a court officer who was very rude and disrespectful to my mom, and I remember all of the defendants were people of color, and I said I really wanted to change that picture and that image," she said.

James began her career as a public defender and went on to do legal work at the state attorney general's office. She said that there was a need to do more.

"As an attorney, I recognized that I was helping people individually and I wanted to help individuals more collectively, and so I recognized that the tool to do just that was public service," she said.

Part of that service is to serve free lunch. James' latest push is to have universal free lunch for public school students.

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