After 23 years, Brooklynites signaled a need for change in the borough’s prosecutor office during last Tuesday’s elections.
Overshadowed by mayoral and comptroller contests that engulfed the city’s voters and media, long-time Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes was defeated in the Democratic primary by lawyer Ken Thompson.
The two candidates ran heated, and often contentious, campaigns throughout the summer which finally came to an end when Thompson received over 55 percent of the vote.
Hynes’ name will still appear on the ballot in November’s general election on the Republican line, as he previously secured their party nomination.
However, Hynes will not continue campaigning, according to his campaign manager, George Arzt, who spoke with The New York Times.
Thompson, 47, spent time as a federal prosecutor prior to establishing and running his own law firm. He has been involved in multiple high-profile cases, including the prosecution of the New York City Police officer who assaulted and sodomized Abner Louima. He also represented the maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, of sexually assaulting her.
Hynes, 73, was the New York City Fire Commissioner from 1980 to 1982. Hynes was best known for creating the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison Program the year he was elected DA, and the Community and Law Enforcement Resources Together public safety program in 1999.
During the campaign, Hynes promoted his office as championing the city’s declining crime rates, and the public safety programs he started during his time as DA. He also dinged Thompson for a perceived lack of experience.
Thompson matched every Hynes attack with a strike of his own. He repeatedly pointed to alleged wrongful convictions among members of the DA’s office that are currently being reviewed, as well as a failure to prosecute pedophilia cases in the Orthodox Jewish community.
One issue of note that that surfaced during the campaign cycle was allegations that Hynes prosecuted potential opponents during previous re-election campaigns.
Lawyer John O’Hara brought these claims to light in a recent video produced by Brooklyn College journalism professor, Ronald Howell. The accusations mostly concern the treatment of Judge John Phillips, who was a potential challenger to Hynes in the 2001 District Attorney election. The allegations include: Hynes starting an investigation into Phillips’ mental competence, Hynes’ Chief of Staff being appointed as Phillips’ guardian, the seizure and eventual selling of Phillips’ assets, and confining Phillips to a nursing home where he eventually died.
The said treatment of Phillips was brought up during a debate between the two in August. Thompson repeatedly pressed Hynes to elaborate on what happened to Judge Phillips.
Hynes never directly answered all of Thompson’s questions, but the Brooklyn DA did say, “Why would he [Thompson] sit here and lie to you?” and called on Thompson to “tell the truth.”
Citizens Union, a government group that says it is a “civic watchdog,” according to its mission statement, endorsed the challenger in August, citing Thompson’s strong case for change.
They wrote in their candidate evaluation: “Citizens Union believes Thompson made a compelling case for a change in the office, thoroughly critiquing practices and mishandled cases by the incumbent that raise serious questions about Hynes’ ability to lead the office going forward.”
Evidently, voters agreed with Citizens Union.
As of Thursday night, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, 166,870 votes had been counted, with Thompson receiving 55.43 percent of the vote and Hynes receiving 44.57 percent.
Abe George, an assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, also ran but dropped out of the race in July and supported Thompson.
After Thompson was declared the winner Tuesday night, he took to Twitter. He first tweeted, “Thank you, Brooklyn! I am humbled and honored to serve as your next District Attorney.” He then tweeted “I want to thank DA Hynes for a lifetime of service to the people of Brooklyn.”