NEW YORK — The runner-up in New York City's Democratic mayoral primary ended his campaign Monday, clearing the way for a general election that will pit the two major-party opponents with vastly different visions of how the city should move forward after 12 years of Michael Bloomberg as mayor.
Democratic front-runner Bill de Blasio will face Republican nominee Joe Lhota now that the second-place finisher in the Democratic primary, Bill Thompson, has withdrawn. Thompson's decision eliminated a potential Oct. 1 runoff against de Blasio. That possibility had loomed as a significant distraction for Democrats, who are desperate to elect their first mayor since 1989 and were fearful that intra-party strife could provide a gift to Lhota and independent candidates.
"Bill de Blasio and I want to move the city forward," Thompson said at City Hall news conference Monday morning. "This is bigger than any one of us."
De Blasio has run an unabashedly liberal campaign, calling for a tax hike on the city's wealthiest neighborhoods to pay for universal pre-kindergarten and reforms to police tactics and demanding greater income equality to "put an end to the tale of two cities."
He also placed his interracial family at the center of his campaign. An ad narrated by his 15-year-old son helped fuel his rise from fourth to first in the primary's final month. He also received a boost in the campaign's final days when, in an interview, Bloomberg labeled de Blasio's campaign as "racist" and "class warfare," criticisms that galvanized de Blasio supporters.
Bloomberg, who declined to endorse in the race, refused to answer questions about his comments Monday during his first news conference since the remarks were published.
Lhota, who served as the head the city's transit agency and was a onetime deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, has vowed to continue many of Bloomberg's policies.
Lhota is an ardent defender of the police department's use of stop-and-frisk, a policy that allows officer to stop people deemed acting suspiciously, saying it helped drive down crime. But a federal judge ruled that it discriminates against minorities and ordered a monitor to oversee changes to the policy.
Though Democrats outnumber Republicans 6-to-1 among registered voters, the GOP's unlikely mayoral winning streak could continue if Lhota "runs as a manager," according to Kellyanne Conway, a Washington-based pollster who has done polls the race.
"Managers tend to do pretty well in New York City," said Conway, who is not affiliated with any candidate. "He's literally the guy who can keep trains running on time and keep taxes low, and that has appeal to people."
Lhota has mocked de Blasio's plan to raise taxes, saying it would never pass the state legislature. He has suggested funding pre-kindergarten by cutting other government expenses.
"Bill de Blasio's change is radical," Lhota said at a news conference. "My change is practical. It's straightforward. It's to be able to build upon what we have done, not tear down what has happened."
He also took issue with de Blasio's campaign theme and showed no reluctance to use one of Bloomberg's inflammatory phrases.
"The `tale of two cities' is a divisive device that he's using," said Lhota. "It's a divide-and-conquer strategy. It's class warfare."
Lhota aims to showcase the inclusiveness of his own campaign by meeting with Democratic powerbroker the Rev. Al Sharpton on Tuesday.
De Blasio did not discuss Lhota at the Monday rally. But Thompson's decision to drop out prevents what could have been a fortnight that cost Democrats time to campaign against Lhota.
In unofficial returns with 99 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio had had 40.3 percent of the vote, slightly more than the 40 percent threshold needed to win outright. Thompson was second with 26.2 percent.
A check of the more than 645,000 ballots cast was finished Sunday and was to be announced late Monday. Some 78,000 absentee and other paper ballots were to begin being counted Monday.
Thompson criticized elections officials for tardy results and said he would have likely stayed in the race had the city issued him matching funds for a runoff.
Independents Adolfo Carrion Jr., a former Bronx borough president, and Jack Hidary, a tech entrepreneur, will also be on the November ballot.
Associated Press writer Meghan Barr contributed to this report. Contact Jonathan Lemire at www.twitter.com/JonLemire