It is a sad spectacle to see a longtime public servant, once known for operating at high standards, sink to a point of desperation and sheer recklessness. But that’s precisely what is currently on display in the life and political antics of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.
The 78-year-old incumbent has been undertaking a campaign for a seventh term that seeks to tear down the man who beat him in the Democratic primary. Indeed, the victory of Kenneth Thompson, a distinguished African-American former federal prosecutor, seems to have unleashed something in Hynes that has made him virtually, well, unrecognizable.
Since losing to Thompson in September, Hynes, a lifelong Democrat, moved to the GOP line for the Nov. 5 general election, and his campaign has gone vicious, employing a little Republican-style race baiting.
In the latest installment in this bizarre campaign, pro-Hynes ads recently appeared in some of New York’s Yiddish-language newspapers in orthodox Jewish areas saying that Thompson was victorious in the Democratic primary because he was supported by a lawless “minority” element.
Meanwhile, there was a media report of emails between Hynes and close friend Sol Wachtler, a Republican former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals. In those emails, Wachtler, who spent 13 months in prison in the 1990s for harassing his mistress, was reported to have used an anti-Black Yiddish slur in his references to Thompson while corresponding with Hynes. All of this has happened since Hynes referred—in what he described as an offhanded jest—to his Democratic opponent as someone who trades firearms illegally.
Hynes explained the emails by saying that they were the product of a hacker who had gained access to the district attorney’s account and altered the emails.
“There’s no question that the hacker who hacked into my account substituted those words to embarrass Judge Wachtler and me,” Hynes explained to the press, when asked about the racial slur. So Hynes would have us believe the incredulous, that the email account of the Brooklyn district attorney was somehow the target of hackers whose purpose was to discredit Hynes and the former judge.
With regard to the ads in the Yiddish press, Hynes simply said he has no role or responsibility for them and that he had no idea who spent the money to put those ads in the newspapers. However, a candidate with integrity and commitment to racial harmony might have denounced such ads and might have called on his supporters to take the high road and focus on issues. But no such statement came from the longtime Brooklyn district attorney.
The incidents have sparked outrage from a host of quarters around New York City, with Hynes being denounced by officials ranging from members of Congress such as Hakeem Jeffries, Jerrold Nadler and Yvette Clarke to Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
“The ad is meant only to create divisiveness, create hate between one community and another community,” Hikind said of the pieces in the Yiddish press. “This is the kind of material that crosses every line imaginable. This is hate-mongering.”
The saddest part of this spectacle is watching a man who championed so much good in a long career stooping to the lowest form of political pandering and fear-stoking in his quest to block the election of Brooklyn’s first African-American district attorney. Instead, his campaign is appealing to the residents in certain parts of Brooklyn to do what they can to prevent the so-called lawless Black folks from taking control of the mighty district attorney seat.
Hynes has done a great deal of worthwhile work since being elected district attorney in 1989, but the most chilling aspect of this unfortunate saga is that it creates nagging doubts about who, at his core, Hynes has truly been all these years.