A campaign that began behind the pandemic-imposed safety measure of Zoom screens ended on Tuesday in a five-borough, bare-knuckled brawl as Eric Adams, a former police captain, took a sizable lead over a splintered field of Democrats in the primary race to become New York City’s next mayor.

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Maya Wiley, a former civil rights attorney and past adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, was narrowly in second, followed closely by Kathryn Garcia, a former city sanitation commissioner. Neither had conceded in a spirited race whose outcome will shape how the city emerges from the pandemic.

With Democrats far outnumbering Republicans, the Democratic primary winner would be the heavy favorite in November.

With nearly 90 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Adams led in four of the city’s five boroughs — everywhere but Manhattan — though the final results, including the first-ever use of ranked-choice voting for the city, are expected to take weeks.

Here are five takeaways from the New York City Democratic primary for mayor:

A former New York Police Department captain and the current Brooklyn borough president, Mr. Adams framed his candidacy from the start as that of a blue-collar Black man who could both battle rising crime and the city’s history of discriminatory policing.

Speaking often of himself in the third person — telling “the Eric Adams story” — he paced the field in centering his campaign on public safety at a moment when a spike in shootings has raised anxiety among New Yorkers. Recent polls have shown that crime emerged as the top issue for voters.

“I’m not running just to be the mayor, I’m running to save my city,” he said before the polls closed Tuesday.

On election night, he was leading with roughly 30 percent of the vote — nearly 10 percentage points ahead of his closest rivals — though the final results will be decided in the coming weeks through ranked-choice voting.

“What a moment, what a moment, what a moment,” Mr. Adams said, in a speech celebrating being the “first choice” on Tuesday.

Pre-election polls had shown Mr. Adams consolidating a plurality of Black support, even with three other prominent Black candidates in the field, Ms. Wiley, Ray McGuire and Dianne Morales, who is Afro-Latino.

And on Tuesday his support was indeed strongest in Black communities in Brooklyn and Queens, as he paired his relatively moderate platform with appeals based on his up-from-the-bootstraps biography as a Black leader who made it in New York.

While the Democratic Party has been seized with an internal debate about how to tackle the historical mistreatment by police of Black and Latino New Yorkers, Mr. Adams defined his candidacy firmly in opposition to the “defund the police” movement, saying at one point that was a conversation being pushed by “a lot of young white affluent people.”

He has leaned on his years in the N.Y.P.D. for credibility on the issue of crime and had some of his sharpest exchanges of the race with Ms. Wiley over the issue, at one point accusing her of wanting “to slash the Police Department budget and shrink the police force at a time when Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets.”

Kathryn Garcia had formed a last-minute alliance with Andrew Yang and he had urged his voters to rank her second.
Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

In one of the more dramatic developments of the race, Ms. Garcia struck up a late alliance with Andrew Yang, the former 2020 Democratic candidate for president, in the final weekend before the primary, as they campaigned together and he urged his voters to rank her second on their ballots (she did not return the favor).

That could benefit Ms. Garcia as she narrowly trailed Ms. Wiley as of early Wednesday, and second-choice support from Yang backers could vault her ahead.

The 2021 race is New York’s first time using ranked-choice voting citywide and it has injected uncertainty into the process.

Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a former adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the system had “completely upended any notion of ideological purity.”

“Democratic voters in this city aren’t wedded to labels but who they think is the best choice to lead our recovery,” she said.

For now, the chance for either Ms. Garcia or Ms. Wiley to catch Mr. Adams would seem to depend on having won the overwhelming support of the other’s backers.

Both candidates, at times, had leaned into running to be the first female mayor of the city, though they never campaigned in tandem as Ms. Garcia did with Mr. Yang. (On Tuesday, Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” was playing at Ms. Wiley’s election night party; Ms. Garcia removed a white blazer onstage to reveal a shirt that said “feminist” on it.)

“It is time for a woman to lead this city,” Ms. Garcia said. She urged patience ahead of complete tabulation. “This is going to be not only about the 1s but the 2s and 3s.”

Ms. Garcia’s speech was a reminder of her relative newcomer status on the political scene, after a New York Times editorial board endorsement helped her emerge as a favored candidate of the city’s educated elites. On Tuesday, she couldn’t help but remark on the literal glare of the television stage lights. “By the way, they are awfully bright right now,” she said.

Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

The Andrew Yang for mayor boomlet started, fittingly enough, with a tweet.

It was the night of the 2020 primary in New Hampshire and just as Mr. Yang was dropping out of the presidential race, Howard Wolfson, the longtime political consigliere to Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, tweeted that Mr. Yang “would make a very interesting candidate for NYC Mayor in 21.”

Mr. Yang’s optimism-infused and energetic candidacy did make waves from the moment he entered. He quickly raised money from loyal supporters, struck up some surprise alliances, including with leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community, zoomed to the front of early polls and attracted an overwhelming amount of media attention.

The bright glare of that spotlight seemed to dim Mr. Yang’s star and on Tuesday he had lagged to fourth place and conceded the race. “Celebrity candidates tend to fade,” said Jonathan Rosen, a Democratic strategist in the city.

The outsized attention on Mr. Yang did reshape the race. Patrick Gaspard, a veteran New York political operative, lamented on Twitter that it “allowed other candidates to be woefully unexamined until close to the end.”

In those final weeks, Mr. Yang had flashed a sharp edge as he sparred with Mr. Adams over both policy and personal matters, highlighting questions about where exactly the Brooklyn borough president lives.

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“Turned out I was right — he was an interesting candidate,” Mr. Wolfson said on Tuesday. “But interesting does not always equal successful.”

Hilary Swift for The New York Times

At the start of 2021, the left-leaning lane in the mayor’s race looked to be dangerously overcrowded. But the stars seemed to align about as well as possible for Ms. Wiley’s progressive candidacy in the closing weeks of the campaign.

An allegation of sexual harassment from two decades ago against Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, paralyzed his campaign in late April, as some early backers abandoned him. On Tuesday, the collapse was so complete that he was in fifth places in parts of the Upper West Side — his home turf.

Then Dianne Morales, who had inspired a left-wing following for her unabashed presentation of progressivism, was hobbled by internal problems, including a unionization effort by her campaign staff that devolved into an acrimonious public fight.

Then Ms. Wiley won the coveted endorsement of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and also Senator Elizabeth Warren.

But the results on Tuesday showed that progressives struggled to form a winning coalition in the mayor’s race with three of the top four finishers — Mr. Adams, Mr. Yang and Ms. Garcia — all running either more moderate or technocratic campaigns.

For Ms. Wiley, mathematical hopes are still alive that she could overtake Mr. Adams as more ballots, and second choices, are counted.

But Mr. Adams’s dismissive remarks about the power of social media on Tuesday — “Social media does not pick a candidate,” he said, “people on Social Security pick a candidate” — seemed to be aimed in almost equal measure at Mr. Yang, who is a social media phenomenon, as well as the left flank of the Democratic Party that rallied around Ms. Wiley.

Sarah Blesener for The New York Times
Dave Sanders for The New York Times

While Mr. Adams’s lead was dispiriting to some on the left, New York’s progressives did hold out hope in some other key down-ballot races.

In Manhattan, the district attorney’s race was too close to call with Alvin Bragg, a progressive, holding a narrow lead over Tali Farhadian Weinstein. Ms. Weinstein, a more moderate Democrat, had injected more than $8 million of her own money into her campaign in the race’s final weeks, earning the ire of progressives for the spending and her ties to Wall Street.

In the city comptroller race to replace the termed out Mr. Stringer, Brad Lander, a progressive from Park Slope, Brooklyn, led Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, by a similar margin as Mr. Adams led Ms. Wiley in the mayor’s race. Like Ms. Wiley, Mr. Lander had been endorsed by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Warren.

Jumaane Williams, the current New York City public advocate and an outspoken progressive, cruised through his primary and won roughly 70 percent of the vote.

In one of the marquee City Council races for the left, Tiffany Cabán, who previously ran for Queens district attorney, was leading by a wide margin with backing of the Democratic Socialists of America. Other progressive favorites were leading in council seats, including Sandy Nurse and Jennifer Gutierrez.

In Buffalo, New York’s second largest city, India Walton, a Democratic Socialist, was poised to upset the four-term incumbent Democrat, Byron Brown. Mr. Brown is a former New York Democratic Party state chairman and a close ally of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Katie Glueck and Michael Gold contributed reporting.