Former New York City Comptroller William Thompson withdrew from the mayoral race today and backed Public Advocate Bill de Blasio as the Democratic nominee, saying he wanted to avoid a runoff and preserve party unity.
“Bill de Blasio and I want to move the city forward in the same direction,” Thompson said at a news briefing on the steps of City Hall, where he was joined by de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. “The best way to guarantee that we improve our schools, save our hospitals, create good jobs and protect our people and their rights is to come together.”
Cuomo, a 55-year-old Democrat, praised Thompson’s decision, which he called difficult.
“It can be much harder to step back than step forward,” the governor said.
Thompson, 60, quit after more than 50 Democratic officials and union leaders joined de Blasio on Sept. 12 at a Brooklyn rally, declaring his victory decisive. Many had backed other candidates or remained neutral. Thompson’s decision came after he consulted with supporters including U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.
His exit avoids three weeks of intraparty battle as Democrats see an opportunity to seize City Hall after 20 years of Republican and independent rule under Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
As Thompson spoke, city Board of Elections officials said it could take days -- or even weeks -- before returns from voting machines were recounted, along with more than 78,000 paper absentee and affidavit ballots.
“Under those circumstances, it is impossible to campaign, let alone offer a meaningful choice,” Thompson said. “It would be a disservice to Democrats and most of all to the people of New York City who are desperate for new direction after 12 long years” to continue the campaign, Thompson said.
Thompson’s departure sets up a Nov. 5 general election between de Blasio, 52, who since 2009 has served in the citywide watchdog post, and Republican Joseph Lhota, 58, who for eight years served as a top aide to Giuliani.
“It means so much that we will be working in partnership for the good of New York City,” de Blasio said, thanking his opponent for stepping aside and promising to turn to Thompson “for advice, for counsel, for leadership.”
De Blasio led Thompson 40.3 percent to 26.2 percent in a seven-candidate race, according to unofficial returns from 99 percent of the city’s voting machines, as reported by the Associated Press. De Blasio needed more than 40 percent to avoid a runoff with Thompson. Thompson faced slim odds that de Blasio would fall below 40 percent.
De Blasio has campaigned on a theme decrying inequality of wealth, speaking of a “Tale of Two Cities,” where almost half of New York residents are poor or struggling, and where the richest 1 percent took home 39 percent of all earnings in 2012. He has proposed taxing income over $500,000 a year to pay for universal all day pre-kindergarten and after-hours programs for adolescents in middle school.
Lhota, who resigned in December as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has said a Democratic mayor would could reverse the economic growth and plummeting crime rates achieved by Republican Giuliani and Bloomberg, who ran twice as a Republican and once as an independent who also appeared on the Republican line.
On Election Night last week, Thompson had vowed to fight on.
“We’re going to wait for every voice to be heard,” he said at the time. “This is far from over.”
Thompson, who received the endorsement of the 200,000-member United Federation of Teachers, was the only black candidate in the campaign.
De Blasio tied Thompson among black voters, with each getting support from 42 percent of that group, according to exit polls.
Tisch, Thompson’s co-chairman and chancellor of the state Department of Education’s Board of Regents, said last week that the candidate consulted with advisers, fundraisers and supporters.
“You have to decide whether there’s a path to victory,” she said before Thompson made the decision public. “You look at what the election results say, and in this election it’s clear that Democratic voters from almost every ethnic and geographic group were persuaded to vote for de Blasio.”
Thompson, a former city comptroller, was the Democratic mayor nominee in 2009 and came within 4.3 percentage points of denying Bloomberg his third term.
Bloomberg, 71, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, was barred from running for a fourth four-year term.