NEW YORK -- New York City's 2013 mayoral race doesn't fully kick off until after voters are done picking a president. But some of the city's top political players are already jockeying for position, preparing to introduce themselves to voters who haven't paid much attention to who, exactly, will succeed Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor who has defined City Hall for more than a decade.
Bloomberg's successor will face significant challenges _ among them a projected budget hole of at least $3.1 billion. And when the victor is sworn in on Jan. 1, 2014, it will be the first time since Bloomberg took office 12 years ago that the mayor likely won't have the financial and philanthropic resources to fund favorite initiatives out of his or her own pocket.
It's too early to make any assumptions about the race, political analysts warn. At this point in the 2001 contest, no one considered Bloomberg a likely prospect. But decision time is approaching _ and there's a chance that it could be sooner than in previous election cycles. With no obvious Republican standard-bearers, it's possible that the most significant contest will be the Democratic primary, and there's been speculation the state Legislature could schedule it as early as June.
If no one unexpected jumps in, this could be an old-school race among political veterans who paid their dues the traditional way _ working their way up the hardscrabble ladder of New York City politics.
"These are the kind of people who used to be elected mayor," said Maurice Carroll, the director of Quinnipiac University's polling institute. "Bloomberg is a total exotic plant in the garden of city mayors."
Here's a look at the expected contenders _ and a few wild cards who could jump into the fray:
She hasn't formally declared her intention to run, but the City Council speaker is already regarded as the front-runner in the race, due to her performance in voter polls and in the money contest that accompanies any campaign.
An August poll by Quinnipiac University found 29 percent of registered Democrats said they'd vote for her in the 2013 primary _ 19 points more than her closest competitor. At this point it's unclear who Republicans might field as a candidate.
The historic possibilities of a Quinn candidacy have also garnered national attention. She would be the first woman and the first openly gay person to take the city's helm. Her wedding this year to her longtime partner helped expose voters to Quinn's personal side when she fretted to reporters that she still hadn't finished writing her vows and spoke emotionally about the impact of New York's legalization of gay marriage.
Critics say her early success is an illusion, due more to her prominence as the No. 2 person in city government than to lasting appeal. Her position does come with significant power. It gives her near-total control over what legislation comes to a vote in the City Council, and she has said she will never bring a bill to vote without knowing it has the support to become law.
Quinn, 46, is widely perceived to have the backing of Bloomberg and with him, many of the city's business leaders, but she's been walking a tricky line. Political analysts say she must distance herself from the mayor, whose popularity has declined, while holding on to his support.
WILLIAM THOMPSON JR.:
The city's former comptroller is best known for his close loss to Bloomberg in 2009, which was surprising because Thompson was outspent by more than 10-to-1. He channeled voter anger toward Bloomberg's extension of term limits and lost by only 4.5 percentage points.
Thompson, 59, got a late start on fundraising this time compared with some of his would-be opponents, but political analysts give him good odds going into 2013, in no small part because he is likely to be the only major African-American candidate in a city where political allegiances often divide along racial lines. His campaign says Thompson's extensive experience in finance and business will also work in his favor.
Critics argue Thompson did so well in 2009 more because of voter dissatisfaction with Bloomberg than because of any compelling vision he presented of himself as a leader.
Eduardo Castell, an adviser to Thompson's campaign, calls that laughable. Thompson, he says, has the extensive experience in finance and business necessary to guide the city. Castell argues he will be a strong candidate on issues of importance such as crime and the increasing affordability gap faced by many city residents.
BILL DE BLASIO:
At 6-foot-5, the city public advocate has been an easy-to-spot presence in city and regional politics for the past 20 years.
He worked as an aide to Mayor David Dinkins in the early `90s, then served as a federal regional housing director for President Bill Clinton and finally as a councilman for eight years. His work as campaign manager for Hillary Rodham Clinton's successful 2000 Senate campaign helped win him a reputation as a consummate political insider.
As public advocate, one of the few citywide elected positions in New York, the 51-year-old de Blasio has frequently and vocally criticized the mayor on issues ranging from stop and frisk to taxi accessibility. He is viewed as popular with the city's powerful labor groups and progressive political organizations.
His family, like those of other probable candidates, has been edging more into the public eye as the election approaches. His wife has been tweeting about politics, her husband and their children since last year. Some speculate that her race _ she is black and de Blasio is white _ could help spark support for him among minority voters.
On the list of likely mayoral candidates, Manhattan's borough president has a "maybe" next to his name. Some have suggested he will instead run for city comptroller, a job that would give him more power and citywide exposure.
Stringer, 52, grew up surrounded by politics. His mother was a city councilwoman and his father was a mayoral adviser. As a preteen he handed out campaign leaflets for U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug, a cousin.
His present-day family, too, has been making its personal life public. His wife tweets frequently about their infant son, and Stringer's been known to proudly show off photos of the baby wearing a top that proclaims "Vote for my dad."
Stringer has been borough president since 2006, and his campaign touts his record helping to guide the expansion of three universities and reforming the borough's Community Boards. He was also a state assemblyman for 13 years.
Though he has criticized Bloomberg on issues including proposed budget cuts to low-income child care, he recently earned praise from the mayor for supporting the city's ban on large sugary drinks in eateries.
Liu, the city comptroller and former City Council member, was once viewed as one of the top likely contenders for the mayoral seat, with strong support from organized labor and minority communities. But his prospects appeared to plummet following the arrests of his campaign treasurer and a fundraiser amid accusations that his campaign made use of straw donors who funneled illegal contributions from wealthy people into his coffers.
Liu, the first Asian-American to win major elective office in New York City, has continued to raise campaign funds, but he is using some of that money for his legal defense, and political analysts have expressed doubt that he could push forward with a mayoral campaign under the shadow of a federal inquiry.
But Liu, 45, has defended his fundraising practices and has continued to talk like someone running for mayor. And he himself has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.
The native of Taiwan, who immigrated to New York at the age of 5, retains strong support among the city's Asian-American community, which has seen its numbers and political influence rise in recent years.
THE WILD CARDS:
_ RAYMOND KELLY: The city's longtime police commissioner insists he has no interest in political office, but some have speculated his high approval ratings and promising poll numbers could push him to jump in.
_ JOHN CATSIMATIDIS: The Gristedes Supermarkets mogul and billionaire could finance his own campaign as a Republican. He explored doing just that in 2009.
_ ALEC BALDWIN: The politically outspoken actor flirted publicly with the possibility of a mayoral run, but his spokesman says he has no such plans for 2013 and is still filming the final season of "30 Rock." He's also been in city tabloid headlines for all the wrong reasons _ tussling with paparazzi and getting kicked off a plane for refusing to turn off his phone.
_ ADOLFO CARRION JR.: The former Bronx borough president moved on to become director of the Obama administration's White House Office of Urban Affairs. Some speculate that after leaving Washington, he could be a late addition to the race.