From left, Charles Hynes, Abraham George and Kenneth Thompson NYLJ/Rick Kopstein
Four years ago, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes ran unopposed as he waltzed to a sixth term as chief prosecutor in the borough with the most residents and the most crime.
Today, however, Hynes faces two opponents who argue, in the wake of overturned convictions and complaints about his alleged reluctance to prosecute sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, that the district attorney has lost credibility.
Moreover, Hynes' challengersAbraham George and Kenneth Thompsonhave raised impressive amounts of cash to take their demand for a change to voters in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.
"When you can't trust a prosecutor is doing the right thing on every case, pursuing justice, they've lost their ability to lead," said George, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney. "The public has lost trust in [Hynes'] ability to prosecute cases."
"The people of Brooklyn have to have confidence that the criminal justice system is being run and operated based on integrity. They have to have faith in convictions that come out of the office," said Thompson, a name partner in the plaintiffs firm of Thompson Wigdor, who added that faith has been lost.
Hynes rejects such criticism and takes credit for a 73 percent reduction in Brooklyn's violent crime rate during his time in office, 1990 to 2011. He also speaks proudly of his "serious track record as an innovator for a range of programs," that, among other things, provide alternatives to incarceration and ease former inmates' reentry into the community.
In fact, Hynes, does not even view the current campaign as his toughest, instead citing his 2005 bid when he faced three opponents as he prosecuted then-Brooklyn Democratic Chairman Clarence Norman Jr. In that race, Hynes edged state Senator John Sampson, 41 percent to 37 percent.
Hynes said he learned from that experience and has been on an "education campaign" ever since, constantly visiting community groups and religious organizations to discuss his office's programs and services.
As a result, he said, he has been able to "dramatically" increase support in historically black neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York.
Political observers say that gaining the support of such groups is important in light of the borough's changing demographics. For example, Hynes has always been able to count on the borough's Irish-Americans, but by 2010, their number had declined to 80,000 from 114,000 in 1990.
According to the latest campaign spending reports, Thompson has raised $341,568 and George $210,777 since announcing their candidacies last year. Hynes, by contrast, had raised only $27,275 in the last six months, although he had more in the bank than either challenger (NYLJ, Jan. 17).
Hank Sheinkopf, a political consultant and lobbyist with no role in the race, said Thompson and George brought in an "extraordinary amount of money in a short period, which means no one's afraid of Hynes anymore."
Michael Tobman, another political consultant and lobbyist, said his "gut feeling" was that Hynes would be reelected because there is "no compelling reason" for voters to abandon him. But he added that Hynes could lose, and he had to concentrate on turning out supporters "block by block, union by union, neighborhood by neighborhood." Tobman is not involved in this race, but ran the campaign of one of Hynes' 2005 challengers, attorney Arnold Kriss.
Hynes himself predicted that, with the race underway, his contributions would pick up.
115,000 Cases Annually
Hynes, now 77, began his career at the Legal Aid Society in 1963. He moved to the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office six years later, rising to first assistant district attorney by 1973.
In 1975, he was tapped as special state prosecutor to root out nursing home fraud. Later, Hynes was appointed the special prosecutor to handle the high-profile criminal case arising from the racially charged 1986 murder of Michael Griffith in Howard Beach, Queens.
In addition to his campaigns for district attorney, Hynes made an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 1994 and for governor in 1998.