Over more than a decade in public life, City Council Member Letitia “Tish” James’s age has appeared in media reports many times, with one consistent problem: It is almost always incorrect.
In the most recent instance, Ms. James, the frontrunner in the race to become New York City’s public advocate, and a campaign aide separately told The Wall Street Journal that she was 50 years old for an article published in July.
Ms. James is actually 54, according to her New York City voter registration card, her New York state law license and school records at Lehman College in the Bronx, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1982. She was born Oct. 18, 1958.
Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal
Letitia ‘Tish’ James
Her campaign manager, Ibrahim Khan, said Ms. James didn’t give her own campaign or a Journal reporter her correct age. “She hasn’t given me her real age. I’ve asked,” Mr. Khan said.
Ms. James didn’t respond to requests for comment. Questions about her age haven’t been raised publicly by her rivals.
“We didn’t think this was anything beyond a woman being coy about her age,” an aide said.
Her campaign issued a statement about the issue Wednesday, in response to questions from the Journal: “Our campaign is focused on talking to New Yorkers about the issues that matter, like education, housing, and jobs, not how young and vibrant Councilwoman James is.”
On Wednesday night, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the city’s largest union, said it would endorse Ms. James for public advocate.
Ms. James was first elected to the council in 2003. She ran unsuccessfully for the council in 2001. Over the past 12 years, at least eight media reports listed her age incorrectly. The discrepancies were small, ranging from one to four years. No corrections appear to have been issued for any of the reports.
Ms. James, a Democrat from Brooklyn and former Legal Aid attorney, is leading in the polls in the under-the-radar public advocate race. A Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 New York/Marist poll released last week showed her with the support of 16% of likely Democratic voters, followed by Catherine L. Guerriero, an adjunct professor at Columbia University Teachers College and New York University, and state Sen. Daniel Squadron, both with 12%. Roughly half of those polled said they were undecided, leaving the race wide open.
A younger age offers no clear advantage in the public advocate race. She is the oldest person in the Democratic field, but there is no age restriction for office. The ages given by other candidates match public records. Mr. Squadron is 33, Reshma Saujani is 37 and Ms. Guerriero is 43.
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, a New York-based group backing government transparency, said Ms. James’s “age fudging ranked low” among political transgressions. “It’s not unusual at all,” she said. “Many people are sensitive about growing older.”
Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a civic group, said something as innocuous as a few years shaved off someone’s age is a problem for a candidate running for public office.
“To dodge the question and not tell how old you are is one thing but to misrepresent your age is different,” Mr. Dadey said. “It raises questions about whether the person is making candid, honest statements.”
Write to Derek Kravitz at Derek.Kravitz@wsj.com
A version of this article appeared August 21, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: An Ageless Question: How Old Are You?.