Speaking to jubilant supporters, Adams acknowledged that he hadn't won yet, and that under the ranked choice system there were multiple rounds of ballot counting still to go.
"We know that there's going to be twos and threes and fours," he said. "But there's something else we know. We know that New York City said, 'Our first choice is Eric Adams.'"
Andrew Yang, whose name recognition from a 2020 presidential run carried his frontrunner status until late in the race, conceded after a surprisingly poor performance that immediately prompted internal finger pointing and questions about the strength of his campaign.
It may be weeks before we know the final outcome, but the winner will now face Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, who declared himself "a populist" and well positioned to fight increasing crime after soundly defeating restaurateur Fernando Mateo in the Republican primary.
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(NOTE: Ranked Choice Voting data will be published June 29 when released by the NYC Board of Elections)
Besides Adams, Garcia, Wiley and Yang, other contenders in the Democratic contest included City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire and nonprofit executive Dianne Morales.
Stringer, McGuire and Morales addressed supporters after polls closed as early returns showed them trailing the front-runners but did not immediately concede.
Current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who leaves office at the end of the year due to term limits, congratulated the three remaining viable Democrats.
"I want to absolutely give Eric Adams real respect for a very strong showing. but we also have to recognize there's a lot more to play out with a system we've never gone through before," he said. "We have to see the whole process play out."
It wasn't just the mayor singing the praises of the former NYPD captain. Governor Andrew Cuomo said public safety is priority one for the next leader of America's largest city, and he understands why so many voters made Adams their first choice.
"I think he represented a combination of confidence in leadership and competent management," he said.
Adams and Garcia were spending Wednesday re-energizing and recharging, while Wiley thanked voters outside a Brooklyn subway station.
"I have been just so humbled and honored by all of the support we have received," she said. "We wanted to give some of that back today and thank voters for coming out."
She may have maxed out her support in what was a disappointing mayoral primary for progressives, there were some bright spots in other races.
Progressive Councilman Brad Lander holds an 8% lead in the race for city comptroller over outgoing Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who declined to concede as votes go into ranked choice.
In the race for Manhattan district attorney, former federal prosecutor Alvin Bragg declared victory. But the more moderate Tali Farhadian Weinstein did not concede, with tens of thousands of absentee ballots remaining uncounted.
And with more than half the City Council turning over, progressives were expected to take several seats in what could serve as a check on the incoming mayor's power. One candidate, Tiffany Cabán, was just shy of the 50% threshold required to avoid the ranked choice voting tally in her race in Queens.
Other closely watched races include Staten Island borough president, where disgraced ex-Congressman Vito Fossella has reemerged and was locked in a battle for first place with Councilman Steven Matteo in the Republican primary.
Almost 800,000 votes were tallied, with 90,763 additional absentee ballots returned out off 221,008 requested.
The primary vote count has already surpassed the 700,000 Democrats who voted in the last competitive mayoral primary, in 2013. There are about 3.2 million registered Democrats in New York City.
Concern over a rise in shootings during the pandemic has dominated the mayoral campaign in recent months, even as the candidates have wrestled with demands from the left for more police reform.
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As a former officer, but one who spent his career fighting racism within the department, Adams may have benefited most from the policing debate.
He denounced the "defund the police" slogan and proposed reinstating a disbanded plainclothes unit to focus on getting illegal guns off the streets.
Sliwa does not have much of a chance to win the November general election in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7 to 1.
Former allies, the two Republicans Sliwa and Mateo traded personal insults and tried to shout over each other during one debate on Zoom.
Sliwa, a radio host who still wears his red Guardian Angels beret when he appears in public, got an endorsement from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who called him "my great friend" in a robocall to Republican voters.
Flanked by Giuliani at his victory party, Sliwa promised a general election campaign focused on crime.
"This is going to be a campaign clearly in which I talk about cracking down on crime, supporting the police, refunding our heroes the police, hiring more police, taking the handcuffs off the police and putting it on the criminals, and restoring qualified immunity to the police so that they can't be personally sued," he said.
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