A day after polls showed him holding a double-digit lead, Mayor Michael Bloomberg edged outgoing Comptroller William Thompson to win a third term as mayor Tuesday night in a race that turned out to be closer than many had expected.
With 100 percent of New York City precincts reporting, Bloomberg finished with a 51 percent to 46 percent lead over his Democratic challenger.
"Today voters from every borough, and every background, every neighborhood and every nationality. From every party and every persuasion went to the polls and they chose progress," Bloomberg declared during his victory speech.
The mayor went on to say the outcome of the election was driven by the issues concerning all New Yorkers, including job creation, public safety and education.
"These are tough times for even our tough town," Bloomberg continued. "Tonight throughout the nation, the public has been very clear and some incumbents have learned that they are tired of politics as usual. The public wants their leaders from both parties to get things done."
The surprise returns contradict a Monday Quinnipiac poll which showed the two-term incumbent earning 50 percent of support of likely votes and a 12-percent lead over the Democratic nominee.
During his concession speech, Thompson thanked the dedication of what he says was the work of "one staffer to thousands of volunteers" over the course of the campaign.
“Tonight as our campaign comes to a close, we must not forget why we put in all the long hours. Because the work we started during this campaign doesn’t end tonight. In fact it’s just beginning,” Thompson said. “I’ll continue to work with you to make this city better and better for all New Yorkers.”
While Bloomberg lost to Thompson by a wide margin in the Bronx, and by a smaller margin in Brooklyn, he was carried to victory by wins in Manhattan, Queens and on Staten Island.
Exit polls reported in the New York Times indicate 73 percent of black voters chose Thompson. Bloomberg, on the other hand, found support from two-thirds of white voters. And almost three-quarters of voters with $200,000 in annual income voted to bring Bloomberg back.
Bloomberg's re-election was made possible last fall when City Council members approved a controversial bill striking down the city's 15-year-old two-term limit and extending it to three terms. Bloomberg will now join Koch, Robert Wagner and Fiorello La Guardia as the city's only three-term mayors.
The victory makes Bloomberg the first New York City mayor elected to a third term since Ed Koch was elected for a third time on November 5, 1985.
Bloomberg vowed to bring more change over the next four years.
"If you think you've seen progress over the past eight years, I've got news for you, you ain't seen nothing yet," he said. "Conventional wisdom says that historically third terms haven't been too successful, but we've spend the last eight years defying conventional wisdom."
Tuesday night's win was also a far cry from the mayor's nearly 20 point blowout in 2005, and it comes after the billionaire financed a record campaign.
He was on pace to spend $100 million, which works out to be about $200 per vote.
Meanwhile, City Comptroller candidate John Liu and Public Advocate candidate Bill de Blasio were among the first projected winners in this year's citywide elections.
Liu easily defeated his Republican challenger Joe Mendola in the race for city comptroller, making him the first Asian-American elected to citywide office.
“Indeed, this is a historic night for New York City and a milestone for Asian-Americans across the nation,” Liu said. “I’m truly humble to have this place in history. And I stand here extremely optimistic about the opportunity to bring change to New York City and about the economic outlook of our future.”
Brooklyn City Councilman Bill de Blasio won the contest for public advocate hands down. He defeated Staten Island Republican Alex Zablocki.
De Blasio will replace Betsy Gotbaum as the city's top watchdog.
Gotbaum decided not to run after Bloomberg successfully overturned the term limits law.
Voters in Manhattan have also elected Democratic nominee Cyrus Vance Jr. as district attorney, to replace the 35-year incumbent Robert Morgenthau.
In other city elections, New Yorkers voted 13 of the 51 seats in City Council to be occupied by newcomers, five of whom beat incumbents in their September primaries. The council races were mostly decided in the primaries.
Of note is the race in Chinatown, where Margaret Chin became the first Asian-American elected to serve District 1.
The other 38 seats will be retained by incumbents, including speaker Christine Quinn, who coasted to victory.
Also, for the first time, minorities will make up the majority of the council, outnumbering whites 28 to 23.
And, there were no surprises in the races for borough president.
All five borough presidents were re-elected by a comfortable margin.
Democratic Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz won by the widest margin.
Scott Stringer remains in Manhattan, as does Helen Marshall in Queens, Ruben Diaz in the Bronx, and the lone Republican borough president, James Molinaro, on Staten Island.
Voting at P.S. 6 near his Upper East Side home Tuesday morning, the mayor did not take his prior lead in the polls for granted and urged all New Yorkers to head to the polls.
"It's a great day, we've got great weather, nobody's got an excuse not to come out today," Bloomberg said. "This is a chance for us to exercise the basic freedom of picking our own government. We have young men and women who for the last 235 years have been fighting and sometimes dying around the world to give us the right to do this."
Thompson also cast his vote Tuesday morning, at P.S. 144 in Harlem, and predicted a surprise victory over his billionaire opponent, as long as voters turned out in force to make that happen.
"Make sure you come out and vote today. We don't know where the turnout is going to be, every vote is important," Thompson said. "I'm asking that everybody come out to vote today."
With no statewide or national elections, turnout was light across the five boroughs.
"There was no one in line in front of me," said one voter on the Upper East Side.
"If it's not presidential or a controversial election, people just don't care enough," said another.
In addition to voting for positions in citywide office, voters approved two statewide referenda.
One will now allow inmates to leave prison to do work for churches, social service groups and other non-profit organizations. Prisoners are currently allowed to leave only to do work for the state government.
The second initiative allows the state to use six acres of Adirondack forest preserve land to run a power line into that region.
Meanwhile, outside of the city, a closely-watched congressional race upstate went to the Democrats.
Attorney Bill Owens won a special election for the 23rd Congressional District.
The race drew national attention from both sides of the aisle – with the White House stepping in to boost Owens' campaign.
Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman drew support from high-profile republicans including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
Owens replaces Republican John McHugh, who left the seat to become Secretary of the Army.
The Republican candidate in the race dropped out over the weekend amid pressure from her own party, and endorsed Owens.