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Long-serving Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes suffered a surprising defeat at the hands of challenger Ken Thompson, ending his 23-year-reign. A report by the New York Times dug deep into Hynes’ long history as Brooklyn’s district attorney and why he lost his latest reelection bid.
When Charles Hynes was elected to serve as the Brooklyn DA in 1990, the Times explained how the borough was a drastically different place:
He took office in 1990, at a time when crime was rampant, racial tensions seethed daily and Irish-Americans like Mr. Hynes were still a potent political force in the borough. By the time he cast a vote for himself in his bid for a seventh term on Tuesday, crime in Brooklyn had dropped 80 percent, and the anti-domestic-violence and drug-treatment programs he pioneered had been imitated around the country.
But as the borough became safer, it also became younger, more diverse and hungry for something different — leaving Mr. Hynes, at 78, the odd man out.
“He wanted to be the longest-serving district attorney in history, and loved what he did; he’s passionate about justice,” said Kenneth K. Fisher, a former councilman who has known Mr. Hynes for decades. But voters, he said, “just didn’t care about what he had done in the past; they wanted to know what he would do for them now, and he didn’t have a great answer to that.”
The mentality of “what have you done for me lately” played a large part in denying Hynes a seventh term. This past year, we reported on a series of negative stories that contributed to Hynes’ sinking chances. In May, Hynes took heat from a rivalover a planned CBS reality show that featured him and his office. Hynes was accused of scoring the show through political connections and critics charged that the show offered Hynes an unfair level of publicity in an election year.
Hynes also suffered criticism for his handling of molestation cases in Borough Park and other Orthodox Jewish communities. In June, we reported that the DA’s office prosecuted whistle-blower Sam Kellner, who helped police bring down a prominent Jewish cantor who had political ties to Hynes’ campaign. The case against Kellner, whose own son was allegedly sexually abused, fell apart when the evidence against him proved to be unreliable and key witnesses were believed to be untrustworthy. The Times also noted that Hynes was lambasted for giving into the demands of local rabbis who didn’t want the names of accused molesters released to the public.
The Times described how Thompson used Hynes’ recent missteps to his advantage, including a series of wrongful murder convictions:
There were reports that under his watch, prosecutors used discredited witnesses and bullying tactics to win a series of wrongful murder convictions. (Mr. Hynes’s office is reviewing at least 50 such convictions, all involving a retired detective, Louis Scarcella.)
These taints on Mr. Hynes’s long and often distinguished record provided his opponent in the Democratic primary this year, Kenneth P. Thompson, 47, with fodder for attack after attack on his ethics. Mr. Thompson also cast the incumbent as out of touch and stale, a creature of the politics-as-usual Brooklyn machine, which has championed him in every re-election bid.
Despite Hynes’ recent failures, the Times pointed to creative reforms initiated by Hynes that made him a model for district attorneys across the nation:
Yet in the early years of his tenure, the rumpled, charismatic district attorney was seen as a reformer who set the standard for district attorneys’ offices across the country by re-evaluating the inflexible tough-on-crime philosophy then in vogue. His programs offered alternatives to harsh sentences for drug addicts, allowing them to enter drug-treatment programs instead of prison, an approach that has won praise from district attorneys and defendants’ advocates alike for being more cost-effective and reducing the chances that offenders will relapse.
Other programs followed: a domestic-violence bureau and family-justice center that reshaped the way domestic-violence victims are handled by the city’s criminal justice system, and programs aimed at helping prisoners find work after being released. A small team he appointed to review the integrity of past convictions uncovered the first of the cases involving Detective Scarcella.
“He’s kind of known as, frankly, just a leader among D.A.’s when it comes to programs and thinking creatively about the criminal justice system,” said Scott Burns, the executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, on whose board Mr. Hynes sits.
With Hynes now out as DA, the New York Daily News outlined Ken Thompson’s plans as he steps into office. The top of Thompson’s priority list includes reforming stop-and-frisk and cutting down on bogus arrests:
The 47-year-old Democratic nominee for Kings County district attorney on Wednesday outlined a series of his ambitious plans — including assigning prosecutors to police precincts in East New York and Brownsville in order to vet questionable arrests.
Thompson’s legal soldiers will determine, outside of a courtroom, whether a cop unfairly quizzed a suspect and can choose to decline prosecution of the case without bringing it before a judge.
“The district attorney can help train the police,” Thompson said less than a day after beating out Charles Hynes, a six-term incumbent.
“It is not right to have someone subjected to stop-and-frisk, snake through the system and spend two days in jail just to get out.”
Columbia Law School University Professor Jeffrey Fagan, an expert on stop-and-frisk, questioned whether Thompson’s ideas would be possible without NYPD’s approval.
“It is ambitious,” said Fagan.
A NYPD spokesman declined to comment until they had a chance to review Thompson’s proposal.
While Thompson is planning major overhauls, he noted that he isn’t about to fire everyone connected to the Hynes office:
“We need new units. We need new programs,” said Thompson who aimed to assure rank-and-file prosecutors that they won’t face the axe if they pass his muster.
“My plan is to get into office, assess everyone, and make a decision.”
The Daily News noted that to help with the transition, Hynes has already invited Thompson to work with his office located at 350 Jay Street, promising a “smooth transition.”