Runoff sparked in N.Y. mayoral primary Messinger, Sharpton lead in Democratic primary

September 10, 1997|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK -- Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani says he loves a good fight, but he might have to wait two weeks for a new opponent.

Ruth W. Messinger, a longtime city politician who is the Manhattan borough president, won the Democratic primary last night in a lackluster three-way race.

But Messinger fell just short of 40 percent of the vote, pushing her into an unexpected Sept. 23 runoff with the second-place finisher, the Rev. Al Sharpton.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Messinger had 39 percent of the vote, to 32 percent from a fast-closing Sharpton. Brooklyn City Councilman Sal Albanese ran third with 28 percent.

"Tonight, my friends, is just the first step," said Messinger, who is widely expected to beat Sharpton in the runoff. "They never said this was going to be easy."

Recent polls had predicted Messinger winning, with Albanese and Sharpton registering less than 20 percent of the vote.

Sharpton, long a polarizing figure, had said for weeks that polls were underestimating his support. Many New Yorkers, he said, were ashamed to admit to pollsters that they would vote for him.

Sharpton was viewed as a protest candidate for New Yorkers concerned about the rising number of police brutality cases. His second-place finish was a coup.

"Reverend Sharpton has spoken eloquently about police brutality in New York," Messinger said. "The strength of his vote is a wake-up call to everyone, especially the mayor."

Giuliani is heavily favored to win re-election in a city long known as a Democratic stronghold.

A longtime city councilwoman from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Messinger has been preparing to run for mayor for 20 years, friends say. She had considered a run in 1989 but bowed to David N. Dinkins, who became New York City's first and only African-American mayor that year.

Precincts across the city reported record-low turnouts. Giuliani was quick to take credit for that. The mayor said that Democrats stayed away because they couldn't vote for their first choice in their own primary: Giuliani.

"I am voting today because I'm a Democrat and it's my patriotic duty," said Sam Mariucci, 58, a Queens retiree. "But I'm a supporter of the mayor."

To underscore that point, Giuliani will hold a rally today in front of City Hall, featuring the scores of Democratic officeholders who have endorsed his re-election.

Albanese, a longtime city councilman from a Republican district Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, was the first candidate to enter the race. But his campaign, hampered by poor fund-raising and advance work, never caught fire.

Pub Date: 9/10/97

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