NEW YORK – Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer won the Democratic primary for comptroller Tuesday night, ending disgraced ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s surprise bid to reclaim his political career.
Stringer had a 52-percent-to-48-percent lead over Spitzer in incomplete and unofficial returns, with 92 percent of precincts reporting.
Spitzer called Stringer to concede, according to Spitzer spokeswoman Lis Smith.
Stringer will face a Republican and other opponents in November’s general election. Almost 70 percent of city voters are Democrats, and Democrats have held the comptroller’s office for decades.
Stringer has held office for two decades as borough president and a state assemblyman. He was heavily favored in the comptroller race before the former governor jumped into it in July, turning a tame campaign into a slugfest.
Stringer argued that voters should spurn a politician who resigned amid a prostitution scandal. He offered himself as a veteran, untarnished public servant who knows how to work with others to make government work.
“Nobody should be elected to office who resigned in disgrace,” Stringer said at a candidate forum last week. “I have the temperament. I have the experience. ... I will not let you down.”
Spitzer, though, bet that his assertive, ambitious turns as attorney general and governor would persuade the city to give him another chance after illegal liaisons spurred his resignation five years ago.
His message was simple: “I made mistakes, but I made a difference.”
That resonated with Paulette Esrig, 81, a retired schoolteacher who voted for him Tuesday at a precinct in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
“I picked him not because I approve of his personal life at all, but I felt he was well qualified,” she said.
But other voters said Spitzer’s past scandal drove them to pull levers for Stringer, even if they didn’t know much about him despite his 20 years as borough president and a former state assemblyman.
“He’s not my favorite, but I think Spitzer is an abomination,” said Jullian Stark, 55, a college biology professor, who also voted in Chelsea.
Spitzer stepped down after being identified as a client of an escort service that was under federal investigation. The married Spitzer was never criminally charged but later acknowledged he’d paid for sex.
Spitzer unexpectedly plunged back into campaigning just four days before the deadline to get on the primary ballot. Dubbed “the sheriff of Wall Street” as attorney general, he styled himself as a leader unafraid to take on powerful interests or take up unpopular causes.
But where Spitzer trumpeted “independence,” Stringer shot back with “integrity.” He branded the ex-governor a master of hubris who was using his personal fortune to seek political redemption after breaking laws he swore to uphold.
Spitzer dismissed his opponent as “a status-quo voice for 20 years” who didn’t have the spirit or skills to make the city’s chief financial office a greater force for accountability in government and change in corporate practices.
Much of the city’s Democratic political establishment rallied around Stringer, and he was endorsed by newspapers including the Daily News, the New York Post and The New York Times.
Exit polls conducted by Edison Media Research for The Associated Press and other news organizations showed the vote divided by race, with Spitzer leading among black voters by a wide margin and Stringer carrying the white vote by a similarly large spread, with Hispanics split about evenly between the two. The preliminary exit poll of 2,035 Democratic primary voters was conducted in a random sample of 40 precincts citywide.
The comptroller audits city agencies, analyzes the budget and invests city workers’ nearly $140 billion pension funds, among other responsibilities. Incumbent John Liu entered the mayor’s race instead of seeking re-election.
Adding to the unconventional comptroller race, former madam Kristin Davis declared a third-party candidacy in April and was arrested in August on prescription drug sale charges; she denies them. She ultimately didn’t file petitions to get on the ballot, according to the city Board of Elections.
Associated Press writer Jake Pearson and AP Radio Correspondent Julie Walker contributed to this story.