Losing Incumbent Charles Hynes Still a Part of Brooklyn DA Race

Democrat Charles Hynes' name will appear on the ballot for Brooklyn DA, on the GOP and Conservative party lines

By Colleen Long
|  Friday, Sep 20, 2013  |  Updated 6:36 AM EDT
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Losing Incumbent Hynes Still a Part of Brooklyn DA Race

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Charles Hynes

The race for Brooklyn district attorney isn't over.

Kenneth Thompson won the Democratic primary over incumbent Charles Hynes — the first time a sitting district attorney lost in New York in a century. But Hynes has the support of the GOP and Conservative Party lines and is being urged to campaign ahead of the Nov. 5 general election. He has told Thompson he won't, but his name will appear on the ballot regardless.

Thompson, 48, is an attorney best known for his steadfast representation of the maid at the center of the sex scandal involving former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Hynes previously told Thompson that he would ensure a smooth transition. In an interview Thursday, Thompson said he hoped that would remain true.

"He not only said that to me, he said it to the people of Brooklyn," Thompson said. "I expect Joe Hynes to keep his word to the people of Brooklyn and not run as a Republican."

Thompson, 48, is a former federal prosecutor who tried the brutal police attack on Abner Louima in 1999. Now in private practice, he most famously represented Nafissatou Diallo, the maid who accused former Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her in a Manhattan hotel room in May 2011. The case fell apart amid questions over her credibility but led to Strauss-Kahn's public undoing and subsequent investigations in France.

Thompson said his time on both sides prepared him well for this job.

"I have insight," he said. "I have insight from my time as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn in terms of dealing with victims. Now, as an attorney in private practice, I have defended people. I have a deeper appreciation for the importance of the criminal justice system."

He has major plans for the office, one of the nation's largest with more than 1,500 new cases a week. It handles more than 80,000 cases per year. He hopes to tackle gun violence, create a cybercrime unit to combat rising identity theft, and retrain lawyers on evidence rules, after a series of wrongful convictions were exposed in part because prosecutors didn't turn over details.

"I hope to change the culture of the office," he said. "I want the assistant district attorneys who work for me to know that the fundamental duty of the prosecutor is to do justice and not just to convict someone."

Hynes has been the district attorney for more than 20 years and his tough-on-crime stance has garnered diverse support — and critics. He has gone further than most prosecutors with community outreach, creating programs that offer alternatives to incarceration, a gun buyback program replicated citywide and a family justice center where victims of abuse can seek refuge and get help in several languages.

But he came under fire for his handling of criminal cases in the Orthodox Jewish community — some said he was too cozy with powerful rabbis — and wrongful convictions, and the negative press swelled around the time of the primary.

But Thompson's win in the general election isn't entirely assured. The 78-year-old Hynes has seen a groundswell of support through emails, text messages and phone calls from people voicing concerns about Thompson.

Still, a win as a Republican would be a challenge for Hynes. Of the more than 1.3 million registered voters in Brooklyn, about 984,800 are Democrats, 123,700 are Republicans and 4,900 are Conservatives, according to the city's board of elections. In the primary, only about 20 percent of Democrats voted, and Thompson won by about 18,000 votes.

Political leaders say Hynes can get GOP and conservative votes as well as the Democrats who didn't vote.

State Sen. Marty Golden, a leading Brooklyn Republican Party member, reached out to Hynes' campaign, and Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long said despite their political differences, Hynes has done a great job and he hoped he would run. "While it would be somewhat of an uphill battle, I think he can pull it off," Long said.

Hynes was on vacation and not reachable. His campaign manager, Dennis Quirk, said Thursday as far as he knew, nothing had changed.

"He's being drafted by the Republicans, and his name will appear on the ballot, but it doesn't mean he's going to campaign," he said. "He will have to decide what to do."
 

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