Image: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Stan Honda  /  AFP - Getty Images
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg celebrates his victory for a third term as mayor of New York City. 
updated 11/4/2009 12:35:01 AM ET 2009-11-04T05:35:01

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg won a third term as New York mayor Tuesday in a closer-than-expected race against a Democratic challenger who stoked voter resentment over the way Bloomberg changed term-limits law so he could stay in office.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Bloomberg, the richest man in New York and founder of the financial information company Bloomberg LP, defeated William Thompson Jr. 51 percent to 46 percent.

In the days leading up to the election, polls showed Bloomberg with as much as an 18-point lead, an edge so big that critics accused the mayor of overkill in his strategy of bombarding the city with campaign ads.

His margin of victory was far smaller than the nearly 20-point blowout he pulled off in 2005.

At a victory rally with supporters, Bloomberg lauded Thompson for running "a spirited campaign."

"We will get our city through these tough times," he promised. "We'll come out stronger than ever."

More than $100 million spent
When all the bills are paid, Bloomberg will probably have spent more than $100 million on his campaign, the most expensive self-financed campaign in U.S. history. Thompson, the city's comptroller, relied on donations and matching funds for his mayoral bid, and was on track to have spent about a tenth of Bloomberg's staggering total.

Thompson ran up huge margins in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, winning by a 3-to-1 margin in some districts.

He beat Bloomberg handily in predominantly black neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn and Jamaica in Queens. He won Harlem and East Harlem easily, along with other heavily Hispanic districts in upper Manhattan and the Bronx.

By contrast, Bloomberg won easily on Staten Island, which has a much larger white population. He also fared better in Manhattan, particularly on the Upper East Side, where he lives.

The tiny margin could weaken his power and make his third term more difficult at City Hall, where Democrats poised to sweep into citywide offices indicated they would not shy away from disagreeing with the mayor.

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"You'll see a lot of strong voices as checks and balances," said Democrat Bill de Blasio, who won the job of City Hall ombudsman Tuesday. "It will be a very different experience than what he experienced the last eight years."

Bloomberg is just the fourth mayor to win a third term, after Fiorello La Guardia, Robert Wagner and Ed Koch.

Campaign faced obstacles
Bloomberg was a Republican but left the party in 2007 to explore a presidential bid, a dream he eventually abandoned. For his third mayoral run, he ran again on the GOP and Independence Party lines.

While Bloomberg was often described as having every advantage in the race, including his estimated $17.5 billion fortune and consistently high approval ratings, his campaign did have to overcome some obstacles.

The mayor, who has close ties to Wall Street and development, was running for re-election at a time when finance and real estate were falling apart and those relationships were not necessarily seen as positives.

There are also the numbers — New York City leans heavily to the left, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans by a ratio of 5-to-1. Democrats were also energized by their party's White House win in 2008.

And New Yorkers were angry that Bloomberg reversed his long-held support for term limits last year and persuaded the City Council, in a matter of weeks, to extend the law so he could run for a third term.

Thompson sought to stoke that resentment, but it was not enough. He did not make a strong, separate case for why he should be elected.

Many Thompson supporters said Tuesday that term limits was the single reason why they voted for him.

Defining Thompson through negative ads
Jason Gerald supported Bloomberg in 2005 but voted for the Democrat this year.

"I didn't like the way he overturned term limits," said Gerald, a retired police officer. "He thinks he's the only person who can lead this city."

When Bloomberg announced last year his intention to change the law and run again, he said it was because the city needed his financial expertise to get through the economic meltdown.

He never revived that argument during the race, though, which grew increasingly negative as Election Day drew near and polls showed most voters still did not know much about Thompson.

The Bloomberg campaign saw its opportunity — it defined Thompson through negative ads and attacks before the Democrat could do it himself.

He will likely have spent more than $50 million on advertising alone, and millions more on his huge army of staffers, some of them the top strategists and consultants plucked from presidential-level campaigns.

The mayor was able to target each voter with unique messages using a database managed by Ken Strasma, who was President Barack Obama's national targeting director in 2008.

The data was crucial not only in shaping the campaign's messages, but also for Election Day operations as the campaign tracked voter turnout in every election district.

For example, campaign officials noticed lower turnout in some areas of the Bronx and Queens than the data had predicted, so the campaign changed its operations on the ground.

Field workers were rerouted to different areas in Queens to knock on doors and get voters to the polls, and former Mayor Ed Koch was summoned to record a last-minute robocall that began calling Bronx voters around 5 p.m.

Elsewhere across the country
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino won an unprecedented fifth consecutive four-year term.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Menino had 57 percent of the vote to City Council President Michael Flaherty's 43 percent. Flaherty has conceded the election.

Menino has already been in office for 16 1/2 years, longer than any in the city's history.

In Minnesota, the mayor of St. Paul, Minn., breezed to a second term.

Chris Coleman's win Tuesday came just weeks after he ruled out a run for governor, saying he wanted to focus on his duties at City Hall.

Coleman, a Democrat, outpolled GOP businesswoman Eva Ng (ING) with 68 percent of the vote in unofficial results with 100 percent of precincts reporting. Ng had 26 percent.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak locked up a third term as the leader of Minnesota's largest city.

Rybak rolled up more than 72 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election with almost three-fourths of precincts reporting, far ahead of anyone else in a field of 11 candidates.

Other notable mayor's races included:

  • Pittsburgh's 29-year-old mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, won his first full term in office. One of his opponents was Franco Dok Harris, whose father is a Hall of Fame running back.
  • Two political newcomers, cell phone executive Joe Mallahan and environmental activist Mike McGinn, were vying to become mayor of Seattle.
  • In Atlanta, six candidates were seeking to succeed term-limited Mayor Shirley Franklin, the city's first female mayor. The election was expected to lead to a December runoff. The top contenders include City Council President Lisa Borders, state Sen. Kasim Reed and City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who was trying to become the city's first white mayor in a generation.
  • In Houston, four candidates were competing to succeed three-term Mayor Bill White. The candidates included city Controller Annise Parker, who would be the city's first openly gay mayor.
  • Former NBA star Dave Bing won re-election as mayor of Detroit, where voters were trying to put the turmoil of the past year — the fall of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the federal conviction of a City Council member — behind them.
  • Havana-born commissioner and former television reporter Tomas Regalado won the Miami mayor's race. He replaces Manny Diaz, who is barred from seeking a third term.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Doing the math on Bloomberg campaign cash

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