Eliot Spitzer's quest for political redemption fizzled Tuesday night as the former governor was defeated by Scott Stringer in the Democratic primary for New York City comptroller.
Returns in the bitter, big-spending race showed Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, topping Spitzer 52 percent to 48 percent with nearly all precincts reporting.
The contest hinged largely on whether voters were willing to give Spitzer a second chance. But in the end, Stringer's institutional support from other Democrats and labor unions bested Spitzer's money and name recognition.
"I will bring integrity to this office," Stringer, 53, told cheering supporters at a Manhattan tavern. "I will make you proud."
He promised to be "a counterweight to whoever the next mayor will be."
Spitzer, 54, once graced the cover of national magazines as "The Sheriff of Wall Street" for his investigations of the some of the nation's biggest financial institutions. He resigned in disgrace in 2008 amid a prostitution scandal.
He staked his comeback on winning a race for a normally obscure office. As comptroller, Spitzer would have audited city government and managed its pension fund. More important, a win would have put Spitzer back in the political game.
Instead, he fell to Stringer, a former state assemblyman who relied on a vast get-out-the-vote operation backed by unions.
Spitzer seized a double-digit lead after he announced his candidacy in July -- four days before the filing deadline. But as the race continued, Spitzer's lead steadily eroded. In the final weeks, the candidates drew even in the polls.
"I've been honored to serve," Spitzer said in his concession speech in Harlem. "I've been honored to be an assistant district attorney, attorney general, governor -- serve the public in many and varied capacities. For me, politics was never a profession, it was a cause. It was a calling to serve and to try to fight for those issues that we believed in."
The campaign is believed to be the most expensive ever for the office. Spitzer pumped $9.4 million into his campaign, mostly from his family real estate fortune, records show. Stringer spent about $5.5 million, a representative confirmed.
"I was definitely worried," Stringer said Tuesday night. "We were being outspent."
Stringer is now the overwhelming favorite in the Nov. 5 general election, in which he will face Republican John Burnett, as well as Libertarian and Green Party candidates. At their final debate last week, the candidates focused on Spitzer's fall from grace and voters' appetite for his comeback. Stringer said Spitzer didn't deserve a second chance.
"I didn't resign in disgrace," Stringer said. "Nobody should be elected to public office who resigned in disgrace."
Spitzer countered that Stringer was a "20-year status-quo politician" who ran for comptroller after failing to gain support for his mayoral bid.
With Katie Ulrich
and Marc Beja