NEW YORK — In the topsy-turvy New York City mayoral race that has been filled with larger-than-life characters, Bill Thompson has run a steady, under-the-radar campaign that has put him within striking distance of victory.
His Democratic rivals have seized the tabloid headlines: Christine Quinn, who is bidding to become the city’s first openly gay mayor, opened up about her alcoholism and bulimia. Bill de Blasio has made his family, which includes his afro-sporting 15-year-old son and formerly lesbian wife, the centerpiece of his campaign. And Anthony Weiner’s political resurrection captivated the city only to have it collapse under a new wave of sexting revelations.
The front-runners have changed repeatedly. But the even-tempered Thompson, a former city comptroller, has remained consistently in third, just a few points behind the leaders.
‘‘I think there were a lot of distractions over the summer, things that distracted us from the future of New York City,’’ Thompson said. ‘‘But I think it’s settled in now and people are focusing on the issues.
‘‘I am very comfortable with where I am,’’ he said. ‘‘You don’t want to peak in February, you want to peak on Sept. 10 and I think I am heading that way.’’
With little establishment support, Thompson came within five points of toppling Mayor Michael Bloomberg four years ago. But that showing did little to help him early in his 2013 campaign, which was marked by sluggish fund-raising and sometimes confused messaging. And for much of the campaign, he has maintained the lowest name recognition among the major Democratic candidates, despite being the party’s last nominee and the lone African-American in the race.
‘‘Four years ago, most people were voting against Bloomberg, not for Thompson,’’ said Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. ‘‘Thompson was starting over this year.’’
Thompson, 59, a former head of the city Board of Education, served as comptroller from 2002 to 2009. He is from a Brooklyn political family and now lives in Harlem.
He has spent much of the summer touting endorsements meant to appeal to a wide spectrum of interests. His backers include pro-Bloomberg business leaders and the decidedly anti-Bloomberg teachers union.
Thompson also trotted out endorsements from minority leaders such as US Representative Charles Rangel and Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz to shore up support among blacks and Latinos.
The competition for minority voters, who are expected to make up more than half the primary electorate, has been fierce. According to a Quinnipiac University poll of likely Democratic voters released last week, Thompson is the top choice of African-American voters with 39 percent. Overall, the poll of 579 likely Democratic voters had de Blasio at 30 percent, Quinn at 24 and Thompson at 22. But with the margin of error at 4.1 points, the top three are nearly in a dead heat. If no candidate makes 40 percent of the vote in the Sept. 10 primary, the top two advance to a runoff three weeks later.