Bill Thompson, who came in a distant second in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary, said he wouldn’t concede his party’s nomination to Bill de Blasio until elections officials count every outstanding vote and confirm whether the leader received the 40 percent required to avoid a runoff – a process that could take days, or weeks.
“I want to make sure that every voice is heard, that every vote is counted,” Thompson said after attending a Sept. 11 memorial service at the Firemen’s Memorial in Riverside Park. “Why? Because that's why you run a race, that's why we're out here. Because you want to make sure that every vote is counted.”
The Board of Elections lists de Blasio with 40.13 percent of the vote, and Thompson with 26 percent. But that doesn’t include about 20,000 special, military and absentee ballots. A complete recount will begin Friday, and a tally of the paper ballots will start Monday, the board said.
Thompson said Wednesday that he’d seek court action to oversee the ballot-counting operation. His campaign later said the process involved asking a judge to assign the NYPD to guard the ballots during the count; those requests, according to the campaign, are usually granted.
Thompson framed his digging in as an issue of fairness, but it also raises concerns about party unity. If de Blasio ends up the outright winner, then he will have less time and money to focus on the Republican nominee, former MTA chairman Joseph Lhota. If it turns out that de Blasio didn’t quite make 40 percent, then he and Thompson will have spent a good chunk of the three-week runoff campaign battling over ballots.
If needed, a runoff would be held Oct. 1.
Democrats found themselves in a similar situation in 2005, when Anthony Weiner finished second to Fernando Ferrer, who had just under 40 percent in unofficial tallies. Rather than endure a recount, and force a costly runoff campaign, Weiner dropped out, handing the nomination to Ferrer – who ultimately lost to Mayor Bloomberg.
A more protracted fight unfolded in 1997, when Al Sharpton forced Ruth Messinger into a Democratic runoff, only to see the race canceled a week later, when a recount determined that Messinger had hit 40 percent. Messinger lost to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The Board of Elections said a runoff this year would cost $13 million.
Asked if he would continue his campaign if de Blasio was even 1 percentage point short of 40 percent, Thompson said yes.
“If de Blasio is at 39 percent, yes, I would continue, absolutely.”
Thompson’s brief remarks were the only from any of the remaining mayor candidates on a day in which the unresolved race paused as the city marked the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Thompson, who won the 2009 nomination and narrowly lost to Bloomberg, seemed defiant, even gleeful, in a speech to supporters Tuesday night. He pledged to wait until “every voice is counted.”
But the biggest winner was de Blasio, a populist who framed his campaign as an ideological appeal to New Yorkers disenfranchised by the city’s income disparities and aggressive police tactics, and as a rebuke to Bloomberg’s 12-year rule. Over a few short summer weeks, the message caught fire and propelled him from the middle of the pack to the front.
De Blasio, the city’s public advocate, trounced his Democratic rivals among nearly every kind of voter: exit polls showed that he drew more blacks than Thompson, the campaign’s only black contender, and more women than City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the race’s only woman, who finished third, according to unofficial returns. De Blasio did well among voters who disapproved of Bloomberg, and even those who approved of the mayor’s performance.
Which means that, if Thompson manages to force a runoff, he’ll have a difficult time cutting into de Blasio’s lead. He’ll presumably need to draw support from voters who backed the losing candidates – Quinn, Weiner and John Liu.
De Blasio would have to decide whether to continue his progressive strategy, or soften it a bit to appeal to more moderate Democrats.
If de Blasio comes in at 40 percent or more, then the general campaign against Lhota will begin in earnest, pitting two starkly different candidates: a staunch liberal versus a Bloomberg-style, business-friendly Republican. Each will likely seek to attract Democrats who stand in the wide ideological gap between them.
If that happens, a big question will be whether Bloomberg will endorse anyone. It won’t be an easy decision for the mayor; he’s already called de Blasio a “racist,” and Lhota once called Bloomberg an “idiot.”