Bill de Blasio held a wide lead in the Democratic primary for mayor Wednesday, but was still hovering around the 40 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff with his closest rival, former Comptroller Bill Thompson. That margin leaves open the possibility that the two men will battle three more weeks for the party nomination and the right to take on the Republican choice, former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio, the city's public advocate, led the Democrats with 40.19 percent, Thompson had 26 percent and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had 16 percent.
Lhota had 53 percent and his rival, John Catsimatidis, had 41 percent, according to unofficial returns compiled by The Associated Press.
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Lhota and de Blasio said they were not campaigning Wednesday, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks; during an appearance at a firefighter memorial ceremony, Thompson, the party's nominee in 2009, said he would ask for court supervision of the vote-counting process, and said he had no intention of conceding.
"The vote is so close, and part of the obligation is, did Bill de Blasio get to 40 percent? I mean at this point, with an incomplete count, he might have, but then again, we don't know that," he said.
On Tuesday night, de Blasio called his finish a "victory" -- if not an outright one, then another step in his populist campaign against income inequality and aggressive police tactics.
"What we have achieved here tonight and what we'll do in the next round of this campaign won’t just change the view of those inside City Hall, but will change the lives of those outside City Hall," de Blasio told supporters in Brooklyn shortly after midnight Tuesday.
No matter whom the Democratic nominee ends up being, Lhota seemed to sense that it would be a fight.
"Our journey continues, just at a faster pace," he said.
In the campaign for city comptroller, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer defeated former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who had sought a comeback after his 2008 resignation amid a prostitution scandal. The AP's unofficial returns showed Stringer with 52 percent and Spitzer with 48 percent, with 97 percent of precincts reporting.
The public advocate race is looking like it will require a runoff between City Councilwoman Letitia James and State Sen. Daniel Squadron, with James at 36 percent and Squadron at 33.
The final word on the Democratic winner -- or whether there will be a runoff -- may still take a while, due in part to widespread reports of problems with the city’s 1960s-era lever-operated voting machines, rushed back into use after the Board of Elections warned they couldn’t certify results from the city’s new electronic machines in time for a runoff.
All over the city Tuesday, voters reported encountering jammed or broken machines, causing longer lines at the working machines, and forcing many people to have to fill out paper ballots. The reliance on paper ballots has heightened concerns that every vote gets counted, which could lead to a long wait for results.
Lhota was among those who had to vote by pen and paper, at his voting place, Congregation of Mount Sinai in Brooklyn Heights.
Although a Republican has won every mayoral election since 1993, Lhota faces an uphill battle against the Democratic choice. Democrats outnumber Republicans 6-to-1 in New York, and Lhota does not have the extreme money advantage that the billionaire Bloomberg (who switched from the GOP to independent while in office) enjoyed.
Primary day arrived with de Blasio completing a steady, summer-long rise from the middle of the pack, portraying himself as the most progressive of the candidates and pounding at the city’s economic inequalities and offering the cleanest break from the policies – particularly stop and frisk -- of three-term Mayor Bloomberg. He also benefited from campaign advertisements that featured his black wife and mixed-race children, notably his teenage Afro-wearing son, Dante.
De Blasio’s surge, and Thompson's resilience, left Quinn, the one-time front-runner who hoped to become the first openly gay mayor, in distant third -- and facing a questionable political future.
She was arguably the race's most powerful politician, responsible for making council deals and negotiating with Bloomberg. But that record dogged her for much of the campaign. De Blasio accused her of making backroom deals with the mayor, and for backing his bid to change city law to allow him to run for a third term.
Quinn pointed out that de Blasio, as a council candidate, once spoke in favor of overturning term limits, but that argument did not seem to hold much traction. It was as if she was burdened with many of the negatives associated with the sitting mayor, and little of the positives.
Post-vote surveys provided some insight into that divide. Only 22 percent of Democrats told an Edison Research/Marist exit poll that they wanted a candidate who would continue Bloomberg’s policies, while 73 percent said they wanted the next mayor to move the city in a different direction. The survey included more than 1,700 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Asked to choose what issue mattered most to them in deciding who should be mayor, 30 percent said jobs and unemployment, 20 percent said education, 16 percent said crime, 12 percent said the city’s finances and 11 percent said housing.
Those same exit polls showed that support for de Blasio was strong in all segments of society that came out to vote. He defeated Quinn among women Democratic voters and Thompson among black Democratic voters.
The primary could turn out to be the end of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s political career. Weiner has longed for the mayor’s office, and has been derailed twice before, in 2005 and 2009. In 2011, he resigned from Congress amid revelations that he’d sexted with women, but chose the 2013 mayoral primary to try for redemption.
Weiner enjoyed an early spike in the polls, and sparked an avalanche of late-night talk-show jokes. Then things turned dark again, when he was forced to admit that he’d continued online relationships with women after his resignation. He sat near the cellar ever since.
He was the first candidate to concede Tuesday.
“I have to say ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt about it -- we had the best ideas," Weiner told supporters. "Sadly I was an imperfect messenger.”
The only major Democratic candidate to consistently poll worse than Weiner was Comptroller John Liu, who has been dogged by a federal investigation into fundraising improprieties. In the end, he received more votes than Weiner, who finished in fifth place.