NEW YORK – Billionaire Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg stormed to a second term Tuesday with an overpowering victory over Democrat Fernando Ferrer — the culmination of a campaign that will go down as the most expensive mayoral re-election in history.
With 47 percent of precincts reporting, Bloomberg had 321,775 votes, or 56 percent, compared with Ferrer's 237,821 votes, or 41 percent. Ferrer conceded the race shortly after 10 p.m. in a phone call to the mayor, who told him he ran a great race and was a "gentleman" for calling.
Ferrer gathered his supporters at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where his grandmother once earned a living working in the kitchen. He strode through the kitchen to meet the workers on Tuesday night, and said he felt "very close" to the people there.
"Now it's time for the people to speak, and their verdict is always something that you accept," he said.
Bloomberg, a former Democrat who was elected four years ago as fires still flared at World Trade Center site, tapped his $5 billion fortune to bankroll his campaign and was on pace to equal his spending record of $74 million from the 2001 race.
The pile of money paid for a blizzard of advertising and an army of staffers and advisers who orchestrated a massive get-out-the-vote machine and a campaign that appeared to undercut Ferrer at every turn.
It was Ferrer's third run for mayor, and the former Bronx borough president would have been the city's first Latino mayor if elected.
Bloomberg's first-term accomplishments included winning control of the failing city school system, repairing a crippled economy after the World Trade Center attack and overseeing a tremendous drop in crime. His failures included a bungled attempt to build a new football stadium on Manhattan's West Side, and the slow pace of rebuilding at the trade center site.
Ferrer's two main arguments were that Bloomberg, a former CEO, is cozy with national GOP leaders who are extremely unpopular in New York, and that he is an elitist who cares only about wealthy Manhattanites.
Ferrer's campaign frequently mentioned Bloomberg's $7 million donation to the committee that hosted the GOP convention in New York last year, but the message failed to resonate with many New Yorkers, including Democrats.
"I totally don't think he's a real Republican," said Cory Crayn, a diehard Democrat who never strayed until he cast a vote for Bloomberg on Tuesday. "Otherwise, I really don't think I could have in good conscience voted for him today."
Bloomberg, a moderate who supports gay marriage and abortion rights, never came out and said he wasn't a real Republican, but his campaign slyly created that image. They formed a campaign subcommittee called "Democrats for Bloomberg," and created television advertisements with celebrity Democrats endorsing the mayor, among other tactics.
He also distanced himself from the Bush administration several times in recent months, coming out against John Roberts, the president's pick for Supreme Court chief justice.
His official schedule this fall was cleverly stacked with bipartisan appearances, diluting Ferrer's case and cutting into the Democrat's own coalition of support.
One by one, Ferrer's backers — including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Charlie Rangel and even former President Clinton — stood next to Bloomberg in recent weeks, mostly for various city announcements.
Democrat Dorothy Wilson, who supports Bloomberg, cast her first-ever Republican vote Tuesday in the Bronx, where Ferrer was borough president and a city councilman and had hoped to pull off his strongest showing.
"Bloomberg did well with the city ... The other one, I don't know what he stands for. All he does is talk about Bloomberg," she said.
Still, some Democrats remained faithful.
"I don't think he has a chance, but I voted for him anyway," said Augustine Abreu, who said he identifies with Ferrer, who is of Puerto Rican decent, because he emigrated from there many years ago. "I think he would make a good mayor."