How Bill Thompson Could Become a Hero

By stepping aside, the candidate could solidify his legacy.

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Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- It's hard to remember a time when Anthony Weiner was anything less than a punch line, let alone when he was viewed as downright heroic, but it really wasn't that long ago. In 2005 Weiner, then a congressman, was considered a rising star in Democratic politics. He was also a leading Democratic contender in the New York City's mayor's race.

Weiner came in a close second behind former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer in the primary. Upon the conclusion of the first round of vote tallying, Ferrer was just shy of the 40 percent threshold he needed to avoid a runoff. The next day, Weiner said the following at a press conference:

There is a time for coming together for working people. This is the time to put aside my opportunity for a runoff campaign to highlight our differences and step aside so Freddy Ferrer, with his long record of service, his steadfast commitment to all New Yorkers, can quickly begin to make his case against Republican Mike Bloomberg.

Though Weiner would eventually be undone by a scandal fueled by his ego and hubris, his concession to Ferrer demonstrated a rare moment of humility and selflessness. Now, eight years later, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson finds himself in Weiner's shoes, only he is not walking the same path.

This is Thompson's second attempt at the mayor's office after a narrow loss four years ago. That time, Thompson made it to the general election before losing to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a surprisingly close race. This time, in Tuesday's Democratic primary, Thompson, a former New York City comptroller, came in a distant second to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

So far, De Blasio has held on to at least 40 percent of the vote, even as the vote count continues. Thompson has secured 26 percent of the vote so far. Polls show that de Blasio would easily defeat Thompson in a runoff, yet so far Thompson has remained defiant, vowing not to bow out of the race. If he insists on continuing the campaign, the only beneficiary will be Joe Lhota, the Republican nominee. An ongoing campaign would do nothing but allow de Blasio and Thompson the opportunity to continue trading attacks, weakening the eventual nominee against Lhota.

It is often a forgotten piece of political history that the most devastating attack ad against Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis -- a racially inflammatory ad featuring convict Willie Horton -- came to the attention of Republicans after Democratic candidate Al Gore mentioned weekend furloughs for prisoners in a primary debate. Although Gore did not mention the Horton case or race when he raised the issue, he brought it to national attention, thus leading to the eventual ad.

Unless the Thompson campaign has firsthand knowledge and proof that de Blasio has an impending John Edwards-sized scandal ready to implode, Thompson has no chance of winning the Democratic mayoral nomination. But he does have something bigger that he can gain by stepping aside: the respect of the Democratic establishment, which would likely go a long way in securing his political and professional future. If he doesn't, then he could risk being remembered as someone who was outclassed by Anthony Weiner.

Keli Goff is The Root's special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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