Finally, Thomas DiNapoli is no longer the "unelected comptroller," as his opponent's campaign ads said over and over.

"It is a great honor for me to be the people's choice for New York State comptroller," DiNapoli told a wee-hours crowd of Democrats at a Sheraton ballroom in Manhattan early Wednesday after his come-from-behind victory over a better-financed Republican challenger, Harry Wilson.

Wilson had won endorsements from most of the state's major newspapers and blanketed the airwaves with ads bashing "Albany Tom."

With Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at his side, DiNapoli said the lesson of the election is that "it's not only about the polls, the pundits or even the papers, for that matter - it is about the people."

Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat, never endorsed DiNapoli, which some Democrats attributed to DiNapoli's ties to Silver. Silver's power over Albany is seen as Cuomo's greatest obstacle.

But DiNapoli expressed no concern about his future relations with Cuomo. "I have always said this was an independent office, and when I was elected by the Legislature, I said, 'I'm not going to be the legislature's comptroller. I'm not going to be the governor's comptroller. I'm going to be the people's comptroller,' " DiNapoli told Newsday. "And what I have such a sense of validation with the result tonight is that I really am the people's comptroller."

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Thousands of union volunteers knocked on doors and made phone calls for DiNapoli in the days before the election. That brought out a larger-than-expected turnout in Brooklyn and the Bronx that proved the key to overcoming Wilson's strong advantage upstate.

In the suburban counties around New York City, DiNapoli didn't win, but the Great Neck resident did better than he expected in an anti-Democratic year like this one.

"Certainly for the Island, being reasonably well known, when you have personal loyalty and a personal following and people have voted for you or known about you for a long time, they tend not to be swayed" by ads like those run by the Wilson campaign, DiNapoli said.

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DiNapoli said while challenges lay ahead, he would "continue to be an independent voice. I call it as I see it."

For the moment, DiNapoli said he'd like to "catch up on some sleep." But he planned to be back at work Wednesday.