The two feuding factions of the Satmar chasidic movement have plenty of differences, but seem able to agree easily on one thing: Who should be the district attorney of Brooklyn.
After putting up a united front to support the re-election of Charles J. Hynes, the two groups announced on Tuesday that they are now backing challenger Kenneth Thompson, who wrested the Democratic nomination from the six-term incumbent in last month’s primary.
“It’s time to unite behind our next district attorney so that we can have a seamless transition that will keep the people of Brooklyn safe,” said Rabbi Moishe Indig, a follower of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, one of two rival brothers, in a statement distributed by Thompson’s campaign Tuesday.
The endorsement came on the same day Hynes formally announced that he is campaigning as a Republican to stay in office after initially conceding defeat.
It’s an uphill battle for the embattled prosecutor who has faced controversy over flawed investigations, reversed convictions and his handling of sex abuse cases in the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox community. Now he’s also up against the Democratic machine that used to have his back in addition to longstanding enemies.
On Monday, Brooklyn-based Sen. Charles Schumer endorsed Thompson, while declining to criticize Hynes.
“There is a clear choice to move Brooklyn’s criminal justice forward, and that choice is Ken Thompson,” Schumer said outside Brooklyn Borough Hall.
At the same spot Tuesday, Hynes, joined by Brooklyn Republicans and Conservative Party leaders, appealed for a seventh term even as Thompson supporters gathered to taunt him.
“Recently, I’ve been assured that enough funding will be available to permit me to wage a credible and successful campaign for re-election,” he said, as reported by the New York Observer. “Now that such a campaign is realistic, I believe I owe it to the greater number of voters of Kings County to give them an opportunity to choose who their district attorney will be, rather than … ceding the election to someone who is simply unqualified to run this office.”
A former federal prosecutor and private litigator, Thompson pulled off an upset that few thought possible when the contest began as a three-way race. Abe George later dropped out and threw his support to Thompson, who won with 55 percent of the vote.
Hynes insists low turnout in the primary led to his defeat and that adding Republicans to the Democrats who already support him will give him a majority.
But the Democrats are likely to pull out all the stops for party unity as Bill de Blasio tops the ticket in what polls suggest is a lopsided mayoral race. If he prevails over Republican Joseph Lhota, Democrats will almost certainly control all three citywide offices (as well as the City Council) for the first time in two decades.
Public Advocate nominee Letitia James is running without a Republican challenger and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer faces the relatively unknown John Burnett.
Also backing Thompson are De Blasio, outgoing borough president Marty Markowitz and Brooklyn’s four Democratic members of the House, Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries and Nydia Velazquez.
But Hynes stands to gain support in politically conservative areas where Lhota is popular, like Bay Ridge, Brighton Beach, Borough Park and particularly Midwood, the site of a highly competitive City Council race between Democrat Chaim Deutsch and Republican David Storobin. This could disrupt the tendency of some voters to vote a straight Democratic ticket.
Support for a longshot independent mayoral candidate, Jack Hidary, whose base is in Flatbush, could also disrupt Democratic unity.
But most Democratic officials have already committed to backing Thompson. Hynes’ surprise move puts them in a bind because of their close ties with him.
“A lot of people out there love Joe, have been loyal friends and have worked together with him for many years,” said Warren Cohn, a Brooklyn-based Democratic political consultant who recently worked on Eliot Spitzer’s unsuccessful primary bid for comptroller. “But they have nominated the candidate for DA in the county and the party leaders have to go behind that.”
Cohn said it was likely Thompson would benefit from a strong desire for change among voters. “What Thompson represents is a fresh start, having someone that was not politically involved before,” he said.
“In every corner of this borough, voters are looking for the same thing – someone who will move Brooklyn forward and restore integrity to our broken criminal justice system,” Thompson said in accepting Schumer’s endorsement. And in an appeal to his party’s stalwarts, he also attacked Hynes for joining the party that “shut down the government, the same party that’s been trying to destroy the President of the United States of America.”
The New York Times reported that Hynes was convinced by supporters to resume his campaign and that Lhota, who needs to maximize GOP turnout on Election Day, also encouraged him. Another factor is the backing of former assemblyman and ex-Brooklyn Democrat leader Clarence Norman, whom Hynes sent to jail for corruption. Hynes accuses Norman of orchestrating Thompson’s campaign, while Thompson insists he played no significant role.
Keeping out of the fray, for now, is Councilman David Greenfield, who represents Borough Park and part of Midwood and controversially backed Hynes in the primary by implying Thompson was anti-Semitic. Greenfield cited statements by the candidate that he would investigate wrongdoing in the Jewish community overlooked by Hynes.
Greenfield did not respond to numerous requests for comment about his choice for DA in the general election. A source said Thompson, at a recent political event for Letitia James, refused to shake Greenfield’s hand when the councilman offered congratulations.
A Thompson spokesman said that account is false and Thompson did shake Greenfield’s hand.
“David stays with his friends and nothing has changed post-primary in terms of whether Joe Hynes is a good DA,” said a Brooklyn political operative close to Greenfield. “He’s not doing anything public right now.”
Far less quiet are activists on behalf of Orthodox sexual abuse victims who accuse Hynes of acceding to pressure not to aggressively pursue such cases even as chasidic and haredi leaders urge victims to vet allegations through rabbis rather than call the police.
Hynes has also been roundly criticized for refusing to publicly name Orthodox suspects, claiming it would be too easy to link them to victims in Brooklyn’s close-knit Orthodox communities.
Orthodox Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Borough Park endorsed Thompson in the primary, citing those concerns.
Mark Appel of Voice of Justice, a group that advocates for abuse victims and closely scrutinizes Hynes’ office called the DA’s decision “unprecedented. He conceded twice already. He must be under a lot of pressure from people around him.”