The New York Times reports that New York City's Democratic establishment is rallying around Public Advocate Bill de Blasio after he won a stark plurality of the vote in a crowded primary. This establishment, including prominent figures and organizations such as unions (including one that had previously endorsed third-place finisher Christine Quinn), is urging the runner-up, former comptroller Bill Thompson, to bow out of the race now in order to avoid a run-off contest and instead give de Blasio maximum time, energy, and perhaps money to prepare for the November 5 general election against Republican nominee Joe Lhota. Per a campaign email, at noon today de Blasio is holding a rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall where "more than 25 progressive leaders and institutions" will endorse him. There have been conflicting messages out of the Thompson camp, but certainly supporters who chanted "Three More Weeks!" at his victory party Tuesday night are hoping their man has one more chance to be the nominee.
If it turns out that de Blasio has won 40 percent or more of the vote, this is all moot: He automatically becomes the nominee. If it turns out de Blasio has won less than 40 percent of the vote, then he would face a run-off against Thompson. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio sits at 40.33 percent (Thompson is at 26.23; there is no debate over who received, by far, the most votes). According to The Wall Street Journal, that .33 percent represents about 2,000 votes. However, there are at least an additional 16,000 military and absentee ballots (the Journal says de Blasio would need to win 27 percent of these in order to stay above 40), and a recount will commence tomorrow and likely conclude Monday.
That is, unless Thompson accedes to increasing pressure from within his own party and voluntarily drops out. There is recent precedent for this: In 2005, even though the initial count showed Fernando Ferrer receiving 39.95 percent of the vote, the following morning the runner-up (a congressman named Anthony Weiner) conceded.
One advantage to a mayoral run-off is that it would increase turnout for the public advocate run-off. Another is that, well, the rules are the rules, and though most say the odds are steep, if de Blasio ends up falling short of 40 percent, then Thompson and his supporters are entitled to their chance.
And the argument for Thompson to withdraw now is also compelling: It would squarely and unquestioningly make de Blasio the nominee and allow him to position himself for the general election.
In the spirit of counter-intuitive New Republic tradition but also just of what feels right, may I propose a compromise of sorts? Thompson should not withdraw until the recount is complete. Then, if the recount shows de Blasio with a figure just short of 40 percent, Thompson should drop out anyway.
Why? It sends the message that votes matter, and will be counted. In a close race, everyone is entitled to have their votes tabulated. Obviously anyone who has given the subject a moment's thought understands that an individual's vote, for all intents and purposes, does not really matter; but our democracy depends on the principle, which mature people are capable of adhering to, that it is nonetheless worth it for each individual to go vote.
It is one thing if, as is customary, a candidate concedes before all the votes are in because the election is not close or the result is otherwise definitive. But for Thompson to concede when we are still not sure exactly what the "result" of the votes is would repudiate the central democratic principle.
That said, once the votes are counted, Thompson can do what he wants—much as a politician, having been elected to office, is free to do things that those who voted him there oppose. (This is the republican, as opposed to democratic, principle.) And clearly it is best for the Democratic Party, as well as for Thompson's own views, for de Blasio to get the best chance to take Gracie Mansion.
This solution, in other words, is the only one that is in the best interests of both democracy and the Democrats.
And, for the future, one word: instant-runoff!