The two feuding factions of the Satmar chasidic movement seem to be able to easily agree on one thing: Who should be the district attorney of Brooklyn.
After a united front supporting the re-election of Charles J. Hynes, the two groups on Tuesday announced 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.
The endorsement came on the same day that Hynes will formally announce that he is campaiging as a Republican to stay in office after initially conceding defeat and agreeing to turn the office he has held since 1989 over to Thompson.
It’s an uphill battle for the embattled prosecutor who has faced controversy reversed convictions and his handling of sex abuse cases in the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox community, as he faces off against the Democratic machine that used to have his back.
Brooklyn-based Senator Charles Schumer endorsed Thompson on Monday, following endorsements from other local officials and there are sure to be others in the final four weeks of the campaign.
“There is a clear choice to move Brooklyn’s criminal justice forward, and that choice is Ken Thompson,” Schumer said outside Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Although Schumer’s avid backing failed to help a former aide, state Sen. Daniel Squadron, win the Democratic primary for public advocate or last week’s runoff against Letitia James, the senior senator’s nod should send a signal that there is no ambiguity within the party over the choice for Brooklyn DA, despite a longtime Democrat running on the Republican and Conservative lines.
And the endorsement is likely to be followed by other prominent Democrats seeking 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 20 years. James is running without a Reublican challenger and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer faces token opposition in the relatively unknown John Burnett.
Thompson has already been backed by Public advocate and mayoral nominee Bill 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.
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 of the race and threw his support to Thompson, who won with 55 percent of the vote. Hynes, 78, is a six-term incumbent.
After saying for two weeks he would not campaign as a Republican, Hynes shifted gears last week and announced he wasn’t quite ready to pack it in yet. He held a fundraiser last week that reportedly netted $150,000 and will hold a rally with Republican backers at Borough Hall tomorrow.
The surprise move puts many Democrat officials in a bind because they have close ties with Hynes but already committed to backing Thompson after Hynes’ concession.
“A lot of people out there love Joe, have been loyal friends and have worked together with him for many years, but they have nominated the candidate for DA in the county and the party leaders have to go behind that,” said Warren Cohn, a Brooklyn-based Democratic political consultant who recently worked on Eliot Spitzer’s unsuccessful primary bid for comptroller.
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 accepting Schumer’s endorsement, Thompson said ““n 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. I am honored to have Senator Schumer’s support and look forward to working with him to make our streets safe from crime and ensure all New Yorkers have a champion standing up for them.”
The New York Times reported that Hynes was convinced by supporters to resume his campaign, and he was also encouraged by Republican mayoral nominee Joseph Lhota, who needs to maximize GOP turnout on Election Day. Hynes supporters hope that larger turnout among voters of both parties will keep him in office, since only about a quarter of registered Democrats voted in the primary, and Hynes has better name recognition than Thompson.
He has been dogged in recent years, however, by reversed convictions and scrutiny of his handling of sexual abuse allegations among Orthodox Jews. Victims advocates accuse him 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 backed Thompson in the primary, while another Orthodox politician, David Greenfield, stuck with Hynes.
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.”
Appel said it was unlikely Hynes could pull off a win given that top Brooklyn Democrats will be actively supporting Thompson.