By ANDREA AUSTIN
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes summarized his reason for seeking re-election in a tweet: “Joe Hynes is a lifelong DEMOCRAT and would run on ANY party line to prevent a felon from taking over the DA’s office!” And: “The people of Brooklyn don’t want a DA who is beholden to a corrupt, machine boss ex-con.”
The “ex-con” is Clarence Norman, an assemblyman who was convicted by Hynes of campaign extortion for selling judgeships and sentenced to three to nine years in prison back in 2007. According to Hynes, Norman played a major role in helping former federal prosecutor Ken Thompson defeat him in the Democratic primary on Sept. 10. Thompson beat Hynes by 10 percentage points.
After initially withdrawing, Hynes, 78, decided to run on the Republican and Conservative lines, making for one of the fall’s more colorful races.
In an interview with Geraldo Rivera on WABC Radio, Hynes said he had mixed feelings about running for district attorney again until he found out about Norman, the former Brooklyn Democratic leader, “who I put in prison.”
There is no solid evidence that directly points to Norman’s involvement with Thompson’s campaign. Hynes, however, said there are sources to confirm it. “For Thompson to deny that he knew anything about Norman running the campaign is disingenuous, if not dishonest,” he told Rivera.
Thompson has denied that Norman helped to steer his campaign.
Hynes also has repeatedly accused Thompson of not being qualified enough to manage the district attorney’s office. Thompson, who served five years as a federal prosecutor, helped convict a police officer in the 1997 attack on Abner Louima, one of New York’s most notorious police brutality cases. Over the last 10 years, Thompson has run his own private firm with one other partner and 15 employees. Though he has criminal justice experience, some argue that he doesn’t have the supervisory experience that the district attorney of such a large borough needs.
Thompson is also known for helping to convince the Justice Department to reopen a civil rights probe into the slaying of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy killed in Mississippi in 1955 . And he was in the public spotlight when he represented a hotel housekeeper who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Hynes’s campaign manager, Dennis Quirk, said the push to run for reelection came from the Republican Party. Many Republican leaders urged him to run partly because having Hynes as a Republican could draw voters to Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota.
In Brooklyn, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 800,000. Though Hynes is running on the Republican and Conservative lines, he does not and never has called himself a Republican. At a rally on Oct. 8, Hynes said, “I’m a Democrat, I’m a lifelong Democrat, always will be a Democrat, and the Republican Party and the Conservative Party, they knew that very well, that I was running as a registered Democrat.”
“He’s been a very progressive DA who’s done things in the right way, and he’s done things on a nonpartisan basis and that’s why he’s supported by the Republican Party,” Ed Cox, chairman of New York Republican Committee, said at the Oct. 8 rally.
Only about 22 percent of Democrats voted in the primary election, which criminal defense attorney David Schwartz said “certainly was not a mandate from the people.” Schwartz served as an assistant district attorney of Kings County from 1993 through 1997 and is a supporter of Hynes’s current campaign.
This small turnout is one of the factors leading Hynes to say that if he can gain the support of Republicans and some Democrats who didn’t vote, he could have a real chance at winning. Some of Hynes’s biggest supporters in the past include the United Federation of Teachers, Kings County Democrats, Shorefront Democratic Club, South Brooklyn, and ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities.
However, both ultra-Orthodox Jewish Satmar sects now endorse Thompson after Hynes’s loss in the primary, along with Frank R. Seddio, chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and City Council member Letitia James, the Democratic candidate for public advocate.
Hynes has faced some harsh judgments with how he has dealt with child sex abuse in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. His support from ultra-Orthodox rabbis throughout his career has led some to assert that it is because of their votes that he has been timid about looking into sex abuse cases with as much vigor as needed.
In 2012, The New York Times reported that in 2008, Hynes made a plea deal with Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, who has a long history of sexual abuse complaints. After pleading guilty, Hynes charged him with only one misdemeanor, rather than two felony counts of sexual abuse. He was not required to register as a sex offender and received only three years’ probation.
After facing much criticism for his approach to this case, Hynes began a victim support group for sexually abused ultra-Orthodox children. According to Hynes, this program, Kol Tzedek, led to 95 arrests and proved to be quite successful, though more scrutiny soon followed after he refused to publicize the names of the prosecuted defendants, even if they were later convicted.
Another attack in Hynes’s current campaign is that he is scheduled to testify sometime in November in a $150 million lawsuit filed by Jabbar Collins, a man who was released from prison after serving 15 years for a murder he says he didn’t commit. Michael Vecchione, Hynes’s top aide and prosecutor in the case, is accused of framing Collins. Hynes’s deposition was originally scheduled for Oct. 22, but some believe it was postponed to save Hynes from getting any more bad press before the election on Nov. 5.
Some find it hard to overlook these accusations, while others are more taken by his accomplishments over the last 20 years. “What a lot of the younger people don’t understand is Brooklyn was left for dead before Joe Hynes became DA, and it’s because of his programs, and his philosophies and crime fighting techniques,” said Schwartz.
Hynes points to the sharp drop in crime in Brooklyn on his watch. According to the Police Department, Brooklyn South has seen an 80.19 percent decrease in overall crime since 1990 and Brooklyn North has seen a 73.59 percent decrease. However, these rates are very similar to the statistics reported in the other boroughs.
Hynes has also been praised as a law enforcement innovator. “He’s the first one to give victims of domestic violence a beeper,” Schwartz said. “He’s one of the first ones to have a gang unit, his drug treatment programs are copied throughout the country, his return to the system programs; he’s one of the innovators of bringing defendants back into the system, into society. He understands the recidivism rate. He has programs that actually help people come back into society and live a lawful life.”
Schwartz was referring to the Youth and Congregations in Partnership, which is intended to reduce recidivism among Brooklyn’s youth and keep them from being incarcerated, and The Abused Women’s Active Response Emergency program, which gives abused women a beeper they can wear on a necklace that immediately notifies the police if they are in danger. The Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison Program is, “the first prosecution-run program in the country to divert prison-bound felony offenders to residential drug treatment,” according to Hynes’s campaign site.
If voted out of office, Hynes will be the first elected district attorney in Brooklyn to be defeated in more than 100 years and Thompson will be the first black Brooklyn district attorney.
Photo: Charles Hynes.