By Andrew Keshner and Nate Rawlings
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg won a narrow victory over City Comptroller Bill Thompson to earn a third term as mayor, according to Associated Press precinct reports. Credit uptown voters for making this a closer race than expected: preliminary results show Thompson winning more than two-thirds of the northern Manhattan vote.
Citywide, Bloomberg won by a 51 to 46 percent margin, according to Associated Press figures. With 96 percent of districts reporting, the two-term incumbent took more than 530,000 votes compared to Thompson’s roughly 486,000 votes. Bloomberg’s five-percent margin victory tonight is noticeably smaller than the 2005 win ushering in his second term. He slammed Democratic challenger Fernando Ferrer that year , 58 to 39 percent Four years earlier, in 2001, Bloomberg squeaked by Mark Green with a 49 to 45 percent margin.
Thompson made a strong showing north of 125th Street, taking 67.8 percent of the local vote, compared to Bloomberg’s 30 percent. Uptowner interviews earlier today revealed both Thompson support and anti-Bloomberg sentiment.
“I wanted to definitely vote for Bill Thompson,” said Milagros Genera-Rochet, a Harlem resident, citing the mayor’s position on term limits. “I think that Mayor Bloomberg has the arrogance of adding himself four years, changing the law to suit him.”
Meanwhile, Josmat Rojas of Inwood called Bloomberg “a very dirty politician,” adding, “I don’t know Bill as much as I would like to but I know I didn’t want Mike Bloomberg there anymore so I voted Bill.”
Despite support for the challenger, preliminary turnout in upper Manhattan was sluggish and in step with low turnout rates during other mayoral elections. In uptown precincts, between 20 and 25 percent of registered voters went to the polls, about half the turnout during last year’s presidential vote. The figures may not include all absentee ballots.
Bloomberg touted continuing drops in crime and gains in public education during his victory speech at his midtown campaign headquarters just before midnight. He made other pledges, from planting a million trees to creating jobs from the South Bronx to Coney Island. “If you think you seen progress over the past eight years, I got news for you: You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Bloomberg said to a wave of cheers.
Addressing supporters a little earlier, around 11:30 p.m., Thompson made no mention of how close the race was in the end and tried to put a good face on the situation. “I leave tonight feeling exceedingly proud of the work we did together,” he said, pledging to put aside differences with the mayor and get back to work on city issues.
With tonight’s win, Bloomberg becomes just the fourth three-term mayor in New York history, along with Fiorello LaGuardia (1934-1945), Robert Wagner (1954-1965), and Ed Koch (1978-1989). But tonight’s victory may not pave the way to New York City political immortality.
Bloomberg’s re-election begins amid controversy over term limits that could result in a much thinner mandate. In 1993, New Yorkers voted to limit all elected officials to two terms, and in 1996, voters struck down a City Council attempt to allow officials to extend those limits. The issue arose again in October 2008, when Bloomberg introduced legislation that would allow him and all elected officials to serve a third term. The City Council agreed, by a 29-22 vote, to allow officials to seek office a third time.
“It says that their votes and their voice do not matter,” Thompson said on the day of the City Council decision, according to the New York Times. “Bullying and heavy-handed threats are more powerful than democratic ideals.”
Tonight was the public’s first chance to weigh in on the term-limit extension that set the stage for third-term runs by Bloomberg and, locally, City Councilman Robert Jackson.
Today’s election also showed that Bloomberg’s $85.8 million was well-spent. That’s the amount Bloomberg, who made his fortune building a financial information and media company, spent on his campaign, according to New York City Campaign Finance Board filings. By contrast, Thompson had a war chest of just $4.4 million.
During his speech, Bloomberg congratulated newly-elected Comptroller John Liu and Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio – who have had their differences with the mayor in the past.
Bloomberg tried to look past disagreements tonight. ”At the end of the day, we all agree on a heck of a lot more than we disagree on,” Bloomberg told his supporters. “Especially our love of New York City.”
Additional reporting by Sarah Butrymowicz, Lisa Waananen and Suzanne Weinstock