NEW YORK — Bill de Blasio closed in on a decisive victory in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary while onetime front-runner Christine Quinn conceded a stinging defeat.
But it was not immediately clear if de Blasio, the city’s public advocate, would secure the 40 percent of votes necessary to win the primary outright and avoid a runoff election against former Comptroller Bill Thompson, who was polling in second place.
At his election night party in Brooklyn, de Blasio delivered a resounding victory speech, praising supporters who stuck with him during the months when his campaign was drawing little public support. But he credited his stance as the "unapologetically progressive alternative to the Bloomberg era" for helping him break through.
"The 'tale of two cities' will be no more," de Blasio said, referring to a phrase he's used to accuse the Bloomberg administration of focusing on a "chosen few" at the cost of the middle class and the poor. "The building of one city will be our future, and we begin tonight."
But speaking to supporters at his own election party, Thompson gave no indication he was preparing to concede, speaking of the "tens of thousands of ballots" that still needed to be counted in the race. As he took the stage, supporters referred to a possible Oct. 1 runoff election, chanting, "Three more weeks! Three more weeks!"
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio had 40.19 percent of the vote to Thompson's 26.06 percent.
The election marked a dramatic turnaround for de Blasio, who had been trailing in fourth place as recently as six weeks ago. But de Blasio saw his poll numbers surge in recent weeks, as he positioned himself as the anti-Bloomberg in the race.
While this was the first election in 12 years in which Bloomberg was not on the ballot, the outgoing mayor was almost a shadow candidate in the race, as de Blasio built his entire campaign around running against Bloomberg’s record. The strategy worked, as early exit polls suggested the majority of the voting electorate on Tuesday were driven by their desire for change.
That sentiment spelled doom for Quinn, who had been the race’s front-runner for months and was widely viewed as Bloomberg’s heir apparent. The City Council speaker placed a weak third in the field.
"I'm obviously disappointed with the results," Quinn told supporters in her concession speech with her wife, Kim Catullo, by her side.
In spite of winning the endorsement of virtually every leading public figure in the city and the unanimous backing of all three of the city’s daily newspapers, Quinn failed to win over voters. While de Blasio and Thompson were viewed favorably by a majority of voters, Quinn was viewed unfavorably by a slightly more than half of voters, according to exit polls
While Quinn has been credited as a skilled negotiator at the City Council, able to cobble together coalitions to get things done, she did not bring that confidence to her mayoral run. An insider said Quinn was often indecisive about how to handle criticism over her ties to Bloomberg and whether she should play up the historic nature of her candidacy — seeking to be the city’s first female mayor and its first openly gay chief executive.
Quinn and her aides failed to accurately gauge the public’s desire for change after three Bloomberg terms, believing until the end that voters accustomed to the low crime and better public amenities associated with the Bloomberg era would turn out for the City Council speaker in the primary.
And she underestimated the damage of early attacks on her campaign by several independent groups, including a committee called “Anybody But Quinn” that ran ads attacking her record and linked her to Bloomberg.
Quinn had also counted on the firm support of gay voters and women — two crucial voting blocs her campaign felt would support the historic nature of her candidacy. But Quinn rarely talked about the history she would make — in part because of indecision within her campaign about how her sexuality and gender would play with black voters and the more conservative voters in the city’s outer boroughs.
Quinn waited until the final days of the primary to make the history argument — a move that came after de Blasio had already made deep inroads with female voters, who never quite warmed to Quinn’s campaign the way they had been expected to.
Quinn and her rivals also underestimated the impact of de Blasio’s multiracial family on the race. As Weiner’s campaign began to collapse in July amid revelations that he had continued to sext with women he met online even after he was forced out of Congress on the issue, de Blasio began appearing at almost every event with his wife, who is black, and their two kids, who are multiracial — highlighting his “modern” family, as he once put it.
De Blasio's campaign truly surged in the polls when he began running an ad featuring his 15-year-old son, Dante, with his bushy Afro haircut, advising voters that his father would be the only candidate who could dial back “stop and frisk” and have the “guts to really break from the Bloomberg years.”
The move helped de Blasio win over black and Latino voters who had been learning toward Thompson, the only black candidate in the race. It also helped further solidify de Blasio’s stance as the anti-Bloomberg, especially after the outgoing mayor told New York Magazine in an interview that de Blasio’s use of his family was a “racist” campaign tactic.
De Blasio frequently mentioned Bloomberg’s criticism of his family on the trail in the final days of the primary — telling reporters Tuesday that it was a sign of how “out of touch” Bloomberg is with the increasingly multicultural city. But he declined to say whether he thought Bloomberg’s attack helped his campaign — insisting he hadn’t considered it.
“I don’t theorize in that fashion,” de Blasio said during a campaign stop in Manhattan just hours before polls closed Tuesday. “I think it is astounding that a sitting mayor of this city would say such a thing.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Joe Lhota, a former aide to ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and recent head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who clinched the GOP mayoral nomination Tuesday.