De Blasio tops NYC mayoral race; Spitzer loses

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

NEW YORK After running as a hard-left populist who vowed to raise taxes on the rich in order to boost public education funding, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio easily topped a field of competitors in the Democratic primary to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio had 40.2 percent of the vote with former Comptroller Bill Thompson in second place at 26.2 percent. If de Blasio's share of the vote holds at 40 percent or more, he will avoid a mandatory Oct. 1 runoff with Thompson.

In the city's high-profile comptroller's race, Eliot Spitzer's political comeback attempt hit the skids, as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer narrowly defeated the former New York governor, who resigned in disgrace in 2008 after being named a client in a high-end prostitution ring.

In his victory speech, de Blasio vowed "to offer an unapologetically progressive alternative to the Bloomberg era" and paused to acknowledge the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks just moments after the stroke of midnight.

De Blasio was able to coalesce his support when it counted most after running a distant fourth place for months. He is poised to become a strong front-runner against Republican businessman Joe Lhota, who held off a challenge from billionaire supermarket maven John Catsimatidis to win the GOP primary.

"I am so honored the primary voters have chosen me to be on the ballot this November," Lhota said in his victory speech following the low-turnout Republican contest. "This is the first step toward continuing a strong future for our city."

If de Blasio goes on to win on Nov. 5, as expected, he will become the first Democrat elected mayor in the liberal bastion of New York City since David Dinkins in 1989.

For months, Congressman Anthony Weiner earned outsized media attention that helped him skyrocket to the front of the pack shortly upon his unexpected entry into the race in April. But his support in the polls collapsed after revelations that he continued to engage in inappropriate online behavior even after resigning from Congress in disgrace for the same offense.

Weiner finished in a distant fifth place with just 4.9 percent of the vote, but he suggested in his concession speech that voters here may not have not seen the last of him.

"Now, sadly, we did not win this time," Weiner said in his concession speech. "We had the best ideas. Sadly, I was an imperfect messenger."

Sydney Leathers, a woman to whom Weiner sent lewd text messages and photos, didn't help his cause, speaking out against him publicly. She even attempted to crash Weiner's election night party and confront him, according to the New York Daily News and other outlets.

Spitzer's effort to re-claim political office five years after his own embarrassing sex scandal fared somewhat better than Weiner's. The onetime attorney general took 48 percent of the vote in the comptroller's race. But it was not enough to defeat Stringer -- a low-key, 20-year veteran of New York City politics, who accepted Spitzer's concession call shortly after 11 p.m.

Stringer had appeared to be a shoe-in to become New York's chief financial officer -- until Spitzer unexpectedly entered the contest, backed by extensive media interest and initially encouraging poll numbers.

The self-funded Spitzer, however, apparently peaked too early.

In TV ads and appearances on the stump, Stringer made an issue of Spitzer's character and questioned his fitness for office.

Despite his nearly universal name recognition, Spitzer appeared to suffer from lingering memories of his downfall in Albany -- sparked further, perhaps, when the new chapter in Weiner's scandal emerged this summer.

In the mayoral race, de Blasio was hardly a household name until a few months ago. But the New York public advocate was able to overcome his better-known opponents. Building upon a base of support among liberal Democrats and voters in the city's outer boroughs that expanded rapidly after Weiner's collapse, he surged past Thompson and the onetime front-runner, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

A former political operative who ran Hillary Clinton's 2000 New York Senate campaign, de Blasio demonstrated his firm grasp of campaign strategy throughout the race's final months, as he exploited Quinn's close relationship with outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg to his advantage.

At every opportunity, de Blasio sought to distinguish himself from Bloomberg, as Democratic voters have increasingly soured on the billionaire mayor who has played an instrumental role in transforming the city through three terms in office.

De Blasio made a point of emphasizing his own mixed-race family, featuring in a memorable TV ad his teenaged, afro-sporting son, Dante, who touted his father as the only candidate who would end the controversial "stop and frisk" police tactic that has sparked a debate over constitutional rights and racial profiling.

Bloomberg generated headlines recently when he told a reporter from New York Magazine that de Blasio had run a "racist" campaign -- a remark that appeared only to solidify the momentum that the Democratic front-runner had already generated.

Campaigning on the refrain that New York has become a "tale of two cities," de Blasio paired his central platform of tax hikes on the rich with calls to expand low-income housing opportunities in a city that is a haven for the international elite.

But with a runoff still possible, Thompson suggested in his Primary Night speech that he was in no mood to give in, joining his supporters in chanting, "Three more weeks!" -- a reference to the Oct. 1 face-off that may still await.

"Let me congratulate Bill de Blasio for running a good campaign -- that's something he knows how to do," Thompson said. "But every voice in New York City counts, and we're going to wait for every voice to be heard."

  • Scott Conroy On Twitter»

    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.