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NEW YORK – Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who ran an upstart campaign pledging to fight New York City’s economic inequality, emerged as the surprising top choice in the Democratic mayoral primary, but could still face weeks – and another electoral fight – before becoming his party’s nominee.

The swirling, chaotic campaign to replace Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, which featured Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting scandal and at least three lead changes in the polls, was fittingly plunged into uncertainty again after the Tuesday primary bled into early Wednesday.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio had about 40.2 percent of the total vote, which puts him a whisker above the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid triggering an automatic Oct. 1 runoff. If he cannot maintain that, he will face former city Comptroller Bill Thompson, who has 26 percent, for a potentially grueling three-week, one-on-one showdown, with the winner advancing to face Republican nominee Joe Lhota in the general election.

But it may take a week or more before it is known whether that battle will be fought at all.

The campaign took a pause Wednesday as the city observed the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Later this week, election officials will recount all the ballots cast Tuesday. It will likely take until early next week before they tabulate an additional 30,000 or more votes as absentee ballots arrive by mail and paperwork comes in from voters who had problems at the polls.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the early front-runner who was seeking become the city’s first woman and openly gay mayor, finished third at 16 percent, followed by current city Comptroller John Liu at 7 percent and Weiner at 5 percent.

De Blasio, who was flanked by the interracial family he made a centerpiece of his campaign ads, made no mention of the potential runoff in his speech to supporters late Tuesday.

“We are better as a city when we make sure that everyone has a shot,” de Blasio told the raucous crowd. “We begin tonight.”

With de Blasio so close to 40 percent, Democratic leaders may pressure Thompson to drop out of the race in the name of party unity. Exit polling shows that de Blasio would handily defeat Thompson in a runoff, 52 to 34 percent, with 9 percent saying they would stay home.

But Thompson made it clear Tuesday he would compete in a potential runoff.

“Three more weeks! Three more weeks!” chanted Thompson, the party’s 2009 nominee. “This is far from over.”

De Blasio, more than any other candidate, benefited from the rapid fall of Weiner, who was leading in the polls before he was felled by his old demons.

A gossip site revealed that Weiner used the online handle Carlos Danger to continue to send X-rated messages to women even after he resigned from Congress in 2011 for similar behavior.

His ill-fated campaign had two final embarrassments in its last minutes: One of his online paramours, Sydney Leathers, tried to crash his primary night rally and Weiner was caught making an obscene gesture at reporters as he was driven away.

De Blasio’s rise was as sudden as it was unexpected.

Not even two months ago, he was an afterthought in the campaign but surged thanks in part to an ad campaign that featured his 15-year-old Afro-sporting son Dante, who became such a cult figure that the campaign embraced the Twitter hash tag #fromentum.