Former New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson fought until the very last minutes of Tuesday night, convinced that he had squeaked by with enough votes to force a runoff with frontrunner Bill de Blasio for the Democratic nomination in the New York City mayor’s race.
Well into Wednesday morning, with 97 percent of precincts counted, it was still unclear whether or not Thompson had pulled it off.
The latest reports show Thompson with 26 percent of the vote but de Blasio leading with 40.2 percent, a little more than the 40 percent needed to avoid a runoff and win the nomination.
Too close to call
Results will remain in question for perhaps another week however, as the NYC Board of Elections performs a recount and tallies an estimated 19,000 paper ballots. Still optimistic, Thompson led supporters at a midtown Manhattan rally in a chant of “three more weeks,” in reference to a hoped-for runoff against de Blasio.
“I think we all know this race is incredibly close and there are still tens of thousand of ballots that remain to be counted,” Thompson told the crowd. “Let me congratulate Bill de Blasio for running a good campaign – that’s something he knows how to do, but every voice in New York City counts and we’re going to wait for every voice to be heard. We’re going to wait for every voice to be counted. My friends, this is far from over.”
A close race explained, how Thompson held on
In just a week’s time, Thompson rose a much-needed five points in the polls. A September 3 Quinnipiac University poll had him with 20 percent support and de Blasio surging with 43 percent. By Tuesday night, it was clear Thompson had chipped away at de Blasio’s lead through non-stop campaigning and appeals to his base.
Thompson visited prominent black churches across the city in the final days before the primary. His packed schedule also included appearances on hip-hop and Caribbean radio stations, a Jewish get-out-the-vote rally and another rally with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He visited his childhood home in Brooklyn, toured small businesses and, in all, made 32 stops in the 72 hours before polls opened — more than any other candidate.
John Collins, communications director for the Thompson campaign, partially credits his candidate’s efforts up until the final days of the race with keeping them in it.
“Any time you can talk to voters one on one and look them in the eye and say here’s my specific plan to fix schools, to protect your rights and keep people safe, they’re going to respond,” said Collins. “We had a volunteer-driven [get out the vote] program that we’ve been planning since day one of the campaign. It targeted voters in 19 assembly districts across the city that were specifically high-performing districts. Knocking on doors, making phone calls, handing out literature. It was a very coordinated, methodical plan and I think we’re seeing the fruits of that plan in action.”
Trouble connecting with minority voters
Despite his best efforts, however, Thompson didn’t do nearly as well among black voters as he did in 2009, when he earned 80 percent of the bloc’s support in his bid against incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Exit polls show Thompson and de Blasio tied for 42 percent of the black vote with Thompson leading among black men but black women breaking for de Blasio to the tune of 47 percent. Exit polling also found that six in ten voters consider Bloomberg’s Stop and Frisk policy to be excessive and believe it results in innocent people being harassed. Most voters critical of the policy, 52 percent, supported de Blasio.
“I think it’s because they didn’t feel connected to or engaged by his candidacy,” says political consultant Basil Smikle on why Thompson struggled with black voters. “Minority voters didn’t identify enough with Thompson because many vote based on issues they care deeply about. People are emotional about stop-and-frisk. Thompson had a more moderate approach toward the policy and it didn’t capture the emotion of voters. De Blasio, on the other hand, tapped into it.”
According to reports, voting machines will be opened Friday to in order to recount the vote and paper ballots won’t be opened until next Monday. If Thompson does manage to make the runoff, Smikle warns he still has a long three weeks ahead of him.
“De Blasio has a coalition of voters across the electorate,” Smikle says. “Thompson will need to really reassure his core supporters that he can still win this and emphasize how important it is that they return to the polls for a runoff.”
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR