New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, once seen as a long-shot candidate, held a commanding lead over his rivals in the Democratic primary for mayor late Tuesday night and may have won it outright.
However, results were incomplete. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio, who campaigned to end aggressive police tactics like stop-and-frisk and to ease the economic plight of the city's working classes, had about 40.2 percent of the vote. If that percentage holds, he would avoid an Oct. 1 runoff against the runner-up, former Comptroller Bill Thompson.
De Blasio addressed cheering supporters at midnight.
"Our missions is to change our city in the name of progress," he said.
He spoke of "what we'll do in the next round of this campaign" and did not make a claim of clinching the nomination.
If de Blasio is the party's candidate, Democratic voters will have chosen one of the most liberal contenders in this year's field to reclaim a mayor's office that has been out of the party's hands since 1993 -- first with Rudy Giuliani's eight years, and the last dozen years with Michael Bloomberg.
Thompson insisted he was not out of the competition.
"Every voice in New York City counts," Thompson told cheering supporters, "and we are going to wait for every voice to be heard . . . this is far from over."
Evan Thies, a Democratic consultant and former City Council staffer, said de Blasio's success "goes against all the conventional wisdom" of city politics.
"It breaks with the idea that identity politics is the one constant truth of local politics," he said. "He crossed over demographic lines in a historic victory for the city."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the early favorite, finished third and conceded defeat.
"Although I'm obviously disappointed, all of you guys couldn't make me more optimistic about the future of this city," Quinn told her backers.
Over the course of the campaign, contenders had swapped front-runner status. Early on, polls showed Quinn, the City Hall insider, leading. A presumptive successor to Bloomberg, she even posed for a spread in Vogue. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner overtook Quinn in late June and stayed at or near the front until it was revealed in late July that he continued his cybersexcapades after his 2011 resignation from Congress.
With voter antipathy toward Bloomberg mounting, the candidates increasingly distanced themselves from him as primary day approached.
De Blasio proved himself the most effective at portraying himself as the anti-Bloomberg; a mayor who would reverse course on stop-and-frisk and strike a tougher bargain with developers. He began his surge last month and continued to pull away, with polls showing him flirting with the magic 40 percent figure.
As stop-and-frisk, and the candidates' positions on the tactic, became a flashpoint in the campaign, de Blasio released ads that featured his biracial family. One ad featuring his teenage son Dante polled as a favorited of registered Democrats.
De Blasio has called his son a potential stop-and-frisk target. During the course of the campaign, a federal judge ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional "indirect" racial profiling. The City Council overturned Bloomberg's veto of two measures intended to reform stop-and-frisk.
Harold Ickes, former top aide in the Clinton administration and adviser to Hillary Clinton in 2000 Senate race, expressed his own theory of how de Blasio has come so close to winning outright.
"Before [Anthony] Weiner got in the race, Quinn was quote-unquote inevitable. After he showed strong numbers, the bloom was off her rose and it never came back. Then Weiner two happened, and he went down while de Blasio came up."
Quinn was seen early on as Bloomberg's likely successor. But her ties to the mayor hurt her as the race wore on, with voters suggesting they were eager to upend the status quo. A vocal anti-Quinn group called NYC is Not for Sale, a coalition of animal rights activists and labor members, spent nearly $770,000 on ads and mailings urging voters to choose "Anybody But Quinn."
Supporters said de Blasio's surge had much to do with voter concern over wealth disparities in the city. His signature proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund full-day prekindergarten and after-school programs resonated with voters worried about economic issues and education.
He also benefited from celebrity backers such as actors Cynthia Nixon and Susan Sarandon, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, some of whom specifically praised de Blasio's tax proposal. Thompson and Quinn, however, dismissed de Blasio's idea as unrealistic, saying it requires approval from Albany that de Blasio is unlikely to secure.
With Dan Rivoli,
Ivan Pereira, Maria Alvarez
and Ellen Yan