Anthony Weiner is not dropping out of the New York City mayor's race. He made that point (again) in an email to supporters last night. But whatever happens to the sexty ex-congressman, Bill Thompson is the candidate to keep an eye on over the next few months.
"At this stage of the game, Thompson is the guy to keep an eye on, obviously," said Quinnipiac polling director Mickey Carroll. "I wouldn't put it in the bank, but it looks pretty good for him."
The former city comptroller, Thompson is the anti-Weiner when it comes to charisma on the campaign trail. He's so low key that voters sometimes forget that they voted for him four years ago. But he came close to beating Mayor Michael Bloomberg in that race, surprising almost everyone.
The only black candidate in a primary where minorities are expected to be the majority, Thompson wins 35 percent of African-American voters in the latest Quinnipiac survey of likely voters. Only Weiner comes anywhere close, with 31 percent. Thompson may have alienated some black voters by saying stop-and-frisk is a "useful tool" while calling for the end of abusive practices. (Weiner has compared stop-and-frisk to Nazi Germany but also calls for reform rather than elimination; current comptroller John Liu is against it). He has the endorsement of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, the Senate Latino Caucus chair.
Thompson also has the influential teachers' union and the New York City firefighters on his side, as well as financial interests from his time as comptroller and subsequent career in banking. In a runoff between the top two vote-getters, which js by far the most likely outcome given the number of candidates in the primary field, Thompson beats Weiner and City Council President Christine Quinn.
A Marist/NBC/WSJ poll out Thursday has Thompson in a statistical dead heat for that second runoff spot with Weiner and Public Advocate Bill De Blasio. Quinn is the frontrunner in that poll.
And polls are probably underestimating Thompson's support, as they did in 2009.
"His base vote of African-Americans and Latinos tends in primaries in New York to be late-breaking," said Bill Cunningham, a former Bloomberg adviser. "They tune in to a race closer to Election Day."
If Weiner somehow makes it to the runoff with Thompson, institutional forces will rally around the former comptroller. If Quinn makes it to the runoff, they'll split (Quinn has powerful unions on her side too) but Thompson will have a stronger hold on minority voters.
Thompson has his own history of marital problems; he's been divorced twice, with some acrimony. But in a election featuring both Weiner and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who is running for City Comptroller, his past looks tame.
So if Weiner fades -- as the Marist Poll suggests he is -- Thompson is well-positioned to pick up the slack and go on to beat Quinn.
"If Thompson is banking on having people of color coalesce around his candidacy, the decline in Weiner's numbers can help bolster him down the road," said Marist polling director Lee Miringhoff.
There is a chance de Blasio, a liberal Brooklynite married to an African-American woman, will get some of that vote; the Marist Poll is his best showing yet. The primary is still two months away. But right now, Thompson looks like a good bet.