A challenger hasn’t unseated an incumbent Kings County District Attorney since 1911. And Charles Hynes is a veteran incumbent. When his first term began, in January 1990, the New York Jets’ starting quarterback, Geno Smith, hadn’t been born yet.
On Tuesday, Ken Thompson knocked Republican-for-a-day Hynes off his seat, emphatically, winning 75 percent of votes.
It’s the second time Thompson has beaten the incumbent in three months. But while the Democratic primary hogged the drama, Tuesday’s election was academic — a product of Hynes’s strange exercise in either self-indulgence or masochism. Or perhaps just desperation.
After Thompson beat Hynes in September, 55 percent to 45, Hynes accepted the defeat and announced that he would step aside. A couple of weeks later, he changed his mind. Hynes, a Democrat all his career, declared that he would run as a Republican in the general election — in a borough where Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one.
Hynes said that he was swayed when he heard reports that former Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr. had helped on Thompson’s campaign. Norman was convicted of accepting illegal campaign funds, a case that Hynes prosecuted. (Thompson has denied any link to Norman.) Hynes also may have held out some hope because of the light turnout on primary day.
But his reputation has been hurt by recent headlines. His office oversaw ugly police and prosecutorial practices that have led to at least some, and possibly scores of, wrongful convictions. Last year, the New York Times reported that he went easy on Orthodox Jewish men accused of sexual abuse in order to strengthen political ties to the community.
Thompson, a federal federal prosecutor, first emerged in the public spotlight when he delivered the opening statements in the case against NYPD officer Justin Volpe, who beat and sexually assaulted Abner Louima, an innocent man arrested because of mistaken identity, in a precinct bathroom. He has also touted his role in working with the federal Department of Justice to re-open the investigation into the murder of Emmett Till.
Thompson’s victory is the first time since 1955 that a candidate has defeated a sitting D.A. in New York City.