As the bruising race for Brooklyn District Attorney approaches its end, Democratic nominee Kenneth Thompson predicts he will win by an even larger margin than his convincing primary victory over six-term incumbent Charles Hynes.
But Hynes, now running on the Republican and Conservative lines, is hopeful he can muster enough additional support to prevail in an admittedly uphill contest.
Repeating a theme he had sounded in the primary, Hynes said Tuesday’s election, is “a referendum on my 24 years. If the voters of Brooklyn review my record and my qualifications side by side with Ken Thompson, then that referendum should be a successful one.”
Thompson, a former federal prosecutor and founding partner of Thompson Wigdor, responded that voters were ready for a change.
“I represent the future of Brooklyn, not Joe Hynes,” he said.
Noting his childhood in a housing development, raised by a single mother who was one of the first female New York City police officers, Thompson said he “embod[ies] what New York City should be all about.”
With a 19-percent turnout of the borough’s almost 950,000 active registered Democrats, Thompson won the Democratic primary in September, 55.3 to 44.6 percent.
According to the state Board of Elections, the Democratic Party has 823,380 more active registered voters in the borough than its two rival parties combined.
Though the general election campaign has had some new twists, both sides say their core arguments have not changed since the September primary (NYLJ, Sept. 9).
Thompson slams Hynes for wrongful convictions and a purportedly hands-off approach to police stop-and-frisk tactics. He pledges to overhaul the prosecutor’s office with topflight legal talent.
Hynes claims that Thompson’s resume is too thin to lead an agency with 500 prosecutors and 1,200 staff. He also questions his rival’s judgment—a swipe at Thompson’s representation of Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel chambermaid who said she was raped by former International Monetary Fund chairman Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Hynes criticizes Thompson for playing to the press and criticizing the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which decided not to prosecute Strauss-Kahn. Thompson responds that he was being zealous in his client’s interest.
Hynes also argues he contributed to the plummeting crime rate through widely-credited diversion and re-entry programs and still has more he wants to accomplish. Thompson says that he wants to improve those programs.
Hynes initially said he would not actively campaign on the GOP and Conservative lines but says he changed his mind after reports linking Thompson to former Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Clarence Norman Jr., whom Hynes prosecuted and sent to prison.
Thompson has repeatedly denied stories in the New York Post, based on unnamed sources, that Norman was a “longtime family friend” and a “political confidant” who ran Thompson’s get out the vote operations.
Thompson said the Post’s coverage had to be viewed in the context of “contentious, hard-fought litigation” in two lawsuits against the newspaper in which his firm represents former Post reporters and an editor (NYLJ, Oct. 30).
“Those two cases are the fuel the New York Post has to go after me,” he said.
Hynes said he had no “direct evidence” of Norman’s involvement, but “enough circumstantial evidence,” backing up the Post’s story to have concluded it is true. For one thing, he said his son spotted Norman at Thompson’s headquarters on Primary Day allegedly heading operations.
Thompson said Hynes has “a right to run on lies and false accusations, adding that Hynes had to come up with a “pretext” to get back in the race.
“I took him at his word,” Thompson said. “Clearly you can’t trust his word,”
Thompson said that about two weeks after the primary and at least a week before reports confirming Hynes’ re-entry, Thompson called Hynes to arrange a discussion about transition.
“He refused to meet. That was all I needed to know,” said Thompson.
Thompson said he had started fashioning a transition team including former U.S. attorney Michael Garcia of Kirkland & Ellis, Peter Harvey of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, and Theodore Wells Jr. and Michele Hirshman of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, but his plans had to be put “on hold.”
A Bitter Tone
Some observers say that the tone in the campaign has become more bitter than the already testy primary campaign.
For instance, Thompson blasted Hynes on an advertisement appearing in Yiddish newspapers that said Thompson won because of “the minority element that seeks lawlessness.”
“It is regrettable he decides to go down this road of race-baiting and fear-mongering,” said Thompson.
Hynes said he had nothing to do with the advertisements and rejected the idea he was responsible for the campaign’s tenor.
He said it was Thompson who has been “mean spirited and nasty. …What I’ve been talking about is a factual approach to this campaign and it’s not nasty.”
To win, Hynes said he is emphasizing to voters not to “think about the party, think about the person.”
But he acknowledges that he has an “uphill battle” on his hands. “I’m not kidding myself,” he said.
Observers say the odds are against Hynes, given the borough’s deep Democratic roots and shifts in the public mood.
“The reality is, while it’s not mathematically impossible, it’s just short of mathematically impossible,” Democrat political consultant Evan Stavisky said of Hynes’ chances.
Kenneth Fisher of Cozen O’Connor, a former Brooklyn councilman, said Hynes “was an innovative prosecutor whose policies helped bring crime down, not just in Brooklyn, but across the city and country, and he deserved a lot of credit for that. But voters turned down Winston Churchill after he won World War II.”
After the city’s “bad old days” in the 70s and 80s and its recovery, Fisher said “voters no longer believe the city is going to lose that momentum.”
That sentiment was reflected in Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s sizeable lead in polls over his Republican rival, Joseph Lhota, and those numbers would translate down the ballot line to Thompson, said Fisher.
Fisher is not affiliated with either side, but said he was a “friend and supporter of Hynes since his first campaign.”
Meanwhile, Brooklyn prosecutors and defense attorneys have been left in a state of limbo.
Defense attorney Robert Gershon said in his conversations with assistant district attorneys he has seen “some anxiety” but added it did not appear to affect their handling of cases.
“It’s definitely weighing on their minds as to ultimately what’s happening,” he said.
Gershon, who is not involved with either campaign, said the defense bar was also caught in a holding pattern.
Defense attorneys are “used to the programs Hynes instituted, they know who to call if there is an issue. If there is a complete change at the top, naturally, there’s some concern on who you speak to, how it affects dispositions.”
@|Andrew Keshner can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.