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David Dinkins, rudely interrupted in his cruise to City Hall, faced an array of television cameras a week ago and uttered six awful words for a politician to speak: "I have not done anything wrong."

Strategically, at least, he had. Besieged by questions about a stock sale to his son, the Democratic front-runner for mayor found himself forced into a complicated defense. By early last week, he had plummeted in the polls.Happily for Dinkins, Republican nominee Rudolph W. Giuliani did not pull past him. After six weeks of sharply negative campaigning, the 45-year-old former federal prosecutor was ill-positioned to grab Dinkins' defectors.

Still, the mayoral race, with the outcome once seemingly set in stone, is suddenly uncertain. With just 1 1/2 weeks to go, the duel to lead the nation's most populous city is startlingly uncertain - and increasingly contentious.

"It's one of the great races of guys running backwards that I've ever seen," said David Garth, political adviser to Mayor Edward I. Koch, whom Dinkins upended in the Democratic primary Sept. 12.

"Giuliani hurt himself very badly" in a series of early missteps that raised charges of racial insensitivity, said Garth, and "Dinkins' problem is definitely Dinkins. The question is, who's going to lose it first?"

In a city that has five registered Democrats for every Republican, Dinkins, the 62-year-old Manhattan borough president, has a built-in edge in his quest to become New York's first black mayor. He enjoys the support of most unions, whose field work in turning out voters can be invaluable on Election Day.

But Dinkins is wounded, his lead perhaps cut in half from the 20-point cushion he had enjoyed all fall. One reason is his struggle to explain why he sold his son stock in a privately held communications company for $58,000 when less than three years before he listed its worth as $1 million.

Dinkins said the higher sum was an overstatement and he produced documents supporting the lower price. Giuliani suggested Dinkins undervalued the stock to avoid gift taxes and accused him of "knowingly and intentionally" breaking the ethics law. The Republican used the issue to remind voters of Dinkins' failure to file tax returns from 1969 to 1972.

Despite the comfortable margin in the polls, Dinkins has been on the defensive since primary night, when he let his friend Jesse Jackson address a victory party - a tactical error, analysts say, because Jackson's support of Palestinian rights and his onetime reference to New York as "Hymietown" have made him anathema to some Jewish voters.

While Dinkins himself has a strong pro-Israel record, his troubles were compounded by charges that one of his advisers made anti-Semitic remarks years ago and that his campaign paid $9,500 for work by a black nationalist who is a convicted kidnapper.