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New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio appears likely to face former transit-agency chief Joe Lhota in a general election for mayor in November, which will decide who follows the 12-year tenure of Michael Bloomberg.
De Blasio maintains a strong lead in the Democratic primary field in the race to become the mayoral nominee, according to polling data, but he will have to wait a week or more to find out if a runoff election is required.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting as of midday Wednesday, de Blasio sits at just a fraction above the 40 percent threshold for dodging an October runoff with the party's second-place finisher. Right now, that is former city comptroller Bill Thompson, who has 26 percent of the vote.
It's not certain whether de Blasio will win the nomination, but the frontrunner's share of the vote hasn't dipped as the final precincts trickle in.
A recount will start at the end of this week, after the city's Sept. 11 memorial services Wednesday, and 30,000 absentee votes will be counted at the beginning of next week.
If de Blasio is declared the outright winner of the primary, he'll compete against Lhota, the former head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Lhota easily defeated billionaire grocery-store magnate John Catsimatidis on the Republican ticket.
De Blasio, who has centered his campaign on combating economic inequality in the city, shot to the front of the Democratic contest in recent weeks, outpolling early favorite City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
Thompson, the party's 2009 nominee, held on to second place ahead of Quinn, who has received about 15 percent.
With de Blasio so close to 40 percent, Democratic leaders may pressure Thompson to drop out of the race in the name of party unity. Exit polling shows that de Blasio would handily defeat Thompson in a runoff, 52 to 34 percent, with 9 percent saying they would stay home.
But Thompson made it clear Tuesday that he would compete in a potential runoff.
"Three more weeks! Three more weeks!" chanted Thompson. "This is far from over."
Quinn conceded the race Tuesday night, as did Anthony Weiner, whose campaign was badly damaged by revelations that he had continued to send lewd pictures of himself to women even after having to resign from Congress in 2011.
If a Democrat wins in the general election in November, it will be the first time the party has held the New York mayoral post in 20 years and could signal a sharply different tack for the city.
De Blasio has fashioned himself as the cleanest break from the Bloomberg years, proposing a tax on the wealthy to fund universal pre-kindergarten and changes to city police practices that he says discriminate against minorities.
"We are better as a city when we make sure that everyone has a shot," de Blasio’s Twitter account read Tuesday night as polls showed him holding a commanding lead.
Lhota, who faced only one main Republican challenger in Catsimatidis, has promised to uphold many of Bloomberg's policies.
“I will support the NYPD and believe that Stop, Question and Frisk must continue,” his Twitter feed read Tuesday night, referring to a policy put in place by Bloomberg that lets police stop anyone they deem suspicious.
The Bloomberg administration and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly contend that the policy takes guns off streets and helped New York battle back against crime, which city statistics show is at record lows (PDF).
The policy has come under fire from Democrats and civil rights groups, who say the policy unfairly targets blacks and Latinos and does little to curb gun violence.
Bloomberg counters by saying "stop and frisk" saves the lives of blacks and Latinos, who are disproportionately victims of gun violence, and has even said that police stop whites too frequently.
A federal judge in August ruled against the city in a lawsuit brought by rights groups challenging the police methods. The city is appealing.
De Blasio has been a vocal critic of "stop and frisk" throughout the primary campaign, while touting his plans for making the city more equal.
Lhota, standing beside his wife and daughter at a victory celebration in midtown on Tuesday night, took on de Blasio’s slogan “a tale of two cities” that he uses to describe inequality in America’s most populous metropolis.
“This tale is nothing more than class warfare,” Lhota told the crowd, according to The New York Times. “It’s this kind of thinking that brought our city to the brink of bankruptcy and rampant civic decay.”
The city's current comptroller, John Liu, and Weiner trailed in the single digits.
Liu would have been the city's first Asian-American mayor, but his campaign has been hamstrung by a fund-raising scandal.
The exit polling showed the appeal of de Blasio, who holds the position of the city's official watchdog, to be broad-based. He leads in all five boroughs and held even among black voters with Thompson, the only African-American candidate.
Quinn would have been New York's first female and first openly gay mayor.
In her concession speech, Quinn mentioned this fact as a historic first and said that while she disagreed with her opponents on some issues, they all cared deeply about the city.
De Blasio also managed to beat Quinn among female voters and gay voters.
Her fall moved Thompson into second place, with a possible shot at a runoff. He has worked to win votes in the city's black and Latino communities.
Over the weekend, New York magazine published an interview with Bloomberg, in which he effectively threw his support behind his close ally Quinn.
Bloomberg criticized de Blasio for his campaign's emphasis on economic inequality, suggesting that it was tantamount to "class warfare." But he took particular issue with the prominent role that de Blasio's mixed-race family has played in the campaign, suggesting the strategy was potentially "racist."
De Blasio, who was an afterthought in the campaign just two months ago, surged thanks in part to an ad campaign that featured his 15-year-old Afro-sporting son, Dante, who became such a cult figure that the campaign embraced the Twitter hash tag #fromentum.
De Blasio responded to Bloomberg's comments at a campaign rally Saturday. "All I can say is, I hope the mayor will reconsider what he said. I hope he'll realize that it was inappropriate, and I think the people of this city are ready for us to move forward together," the candidate said.
Bloomberg was an independent running on the Republican line four years ago. He served three terms, after receiving approval to run a third time from the City Council.
Republicans will look to continue that winning streak with Lhota. Though outnumbered by Democrats in the city 6 to 1, Republicans have won the last five mayoral elections.
Al Jazeera correspondent Raelyn Johnson contributed to this report, with Al Jazeera and wire services
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