Alvin Bragg, a former federal prosecutor, maintained a four-point lead over Tali Farhadian Weinstein. If elected, he would the first Black person to hold the office.
Alvin Bragg was leading in the Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney as returns came in Tuesday night, maintaining a steady margin of about four percentage points over Tali Farhadian Weinstein in a race likely to determine who heads the most prominent local prosecutor’s office in the country.
The winner of the primary will be heavily favored to win the general election in November and would lead an office that prosecutes tens of thousands of cases a year and is running a high-profile inquiry into former President Donald J. Trump and his family business.
Mr. Bragg and Ms. Farhadian Weinstein had long been seen as front-runners in the race, and they proved it on Primary Day, beating six other candidates by double-digit margins with nearly all of the in-person returns in on Tuesday night.
A sizable number of absentee ballots — as many as 59,000, according to The Associated Press — had not yet been counted. As of midnight, Mr. Bragg’s lead stood at about 7,000 votes in the only major race on the ballot that did not make use of ranked-choice voting.
The returns Tuesday showed Mr. Bragg performing particularly well on the Upper West Side and in his home neighborhood of Harlem, and he performed solidly throughout the borough with strong showings in every district.
While many of his proposed policies and priorities align with those of progressive prosecutors who have remade district attorneys’ offices around the country in recent years, Mr. Bragg defied easy classification during the race, explaining the nuances of his positions by referring to his experiences growing up. If elected, he would be the first Black person to hold the office.
“We are going to demand and deliver on both safety and fairness,” Mr. Bragg said in a speech at his election party in Harlem in which he acknowledged that there were votes still to be counted but declared victory and spoke as if he had already won. He pledged to help end racial disparities in the justice system and to run an office informed by his and his supporters’ life experiences.
Ms. Farhadian Weinstein said in a statement that the race was far from over.
“We all knew going into today that this race was not going to be decided tonight, and it has not been,” the statement said. “We have to be patient.”
Ms. Farhadian Weinstein, who would be the first woman to hold the office, ran a more moderate campaign than most of the field, declining to join some other candidates in saying that she would not prosecute certain categories of crime under any circumstances. She raced ahead of the other contenders in fund-raising, bringing in at least $12.8 million, including $8.2 million she gave to her own campaign — causing her competitors and some observers to accuse her of trying to buy the race.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who did not endorse a candidate, discouraged voters on Tuesday from backing Ms. Farhadian Weinstein.
“Please do not support multimillionaires and billionaires who are just trying to buy elections and not supporting policies that will help us,” she said.
Ms. Farhadian Weinstein’s focus on public safety separated her from most of the other candidates, whose strategies to make the criminal legal system less punitive may have made it difficult for voters to differentiate among them.
The one exception was Liz Crotty, a veteran of the district attorney’s office who won the endorsement of several police unions and talked about the importance of public safety throughout the race.
Three candidates without prosecutorial experience — Tahanie Aboushi, Eliza Orlins and Dan Quart — ran to the left of Ms. Farhadian Weinstein and Mr. Bragg, arguing that the office required fundamental change that no candidate with prosecutorial experience could deliver. That position ran counter to the messaging of Mr. Bragg, as well as a fellow former prosecutor, Lucy Lang, who also ran on the idea that she had the knowledge and experience to improve the office’s treatment of everyone it comes into contact with, including defendants.
Ms. Aboushi, who was endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, outperformed the other five candidates throughout the night, trailing only Mr. Bragg and Ms. Farhadian Weinstein.
If Mr. Bragg ultimately wins the nomination, he will be overwhelmingly favored in the general election against the Republican nominee, Thomas Kenniff, who ran uncontested. Mr. Kenniff, a former state prosecutor in Westchester County, a member of the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and an Iraq War veteran, has said that the Manhattan district attorney should be focused on law and order, and in recent weeks, had begun to attack Ms. Farhadian Weinstein by name, calling her “soft on crime” and saying on Twitter that her platform “promises to be the last nail in NYC’s coffin.”
Mr. Bragg and Ms. Farhadian Weinstein both have substantive legal pedigrees. Mr. Bragg graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked for a federal judge in New York and worked as a defense and civil rights lawyer. He first worked as a prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office, became a federal prosecutor in Manhattan and then returned to the attorney general’s office, where starting in 2013, he led a unit charged with investigating police killings of unarmed civilians. He eventually rose to become a chief deputy attorney general.
Erin E. Murphy, a law professor at New York University who supports Mr. Bragg, said that the combination of the candidate’s policies and his racial identity was key to understanding how he might lead the office.
“When we’re in this moment of racial reckoning, it’s really important the leader of the Manhattan D.A.’s office understands the real concerns about public safety that exist in our communities but also that they understand that the police themselves can be a harm-causing agent in the community,” she said.
Ms. Farhadian Weinstein graduated from Yale Law School, clerked on the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, served as counsel to the former United States attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., and after a stint as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn was on the leadership team in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
The district attorney’s office has had only two leaders in close to 50 years, and the current officeholder, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has held his seat for more than a decade. He was considered one of the most progressive prosecutors in the United States when he was first elected in 2009. But since he took office, a wave of prosecutors have won elections by pledging to make their offices less punitive and less racist, a trend that has changed the way that such races are run.
In the opening months of this year, it looked as if the Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney would follow suit, with Ms. Aboushi, Ms. Orlins and Mr. Quart tipping the balance of the race toward the left. But as Ms. Farhadian Weinstein emerged as a financial powerhouse and gun violence rose in certain areas of the city, the focus of the race changed, and she and Mr. Bragg began to be seen as front-runners.