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Leading campaign funds by small margin, Brooklyn DA in for fight of his career

Charles J. Hynes defends his prosecutor's perch against celebrity-funded upstarts Ken Thompson and Abe George

If not for an opponent’s last-minute personal loan, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes would hold a significant cushion in campaign funds going into the home stretch of his re-election bid.

But Ken Thompson, the former prosecutor who represented Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel worker in the Dominique Strauss-Khan case, infused his campaign with $195,000 of his own money last week, according to campaign finance disclosures filed Monday.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, pictured here in 2008, is facing "the fight of his life." AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, pictured here in 2008, is facing the most competitive race in his 24-year tenure. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

That gives Hynes, a six-term incumbent, a mere $80,000 edge in campaign funds eight weeks before the Sept. 10 primary, which will most likely decide the all-Democrat election for Kings County district attorney.

“Ken’s loan to his campaign reflects his commitment to ensuring that we have the resources needed to compete and win in every corner of Brooklyn,” said Thompson campaign spokesman James Freedland.

Hynes has $588,499 cash-on-hand as of July 11, his disclosures show. Thompson has $502,360 and Abe George, a little-known assistant prosecutor in Manhattan before jumping into the Brooklyn DA’s race, has $145,256 in his campaign funds.

Hynes may need every dollar to overcome the steady stream of negative press about his office in recent months, ranging from wrongful convictions to forced interrogations in hotel rooms.

Pace University School of Law professor Bennett L. Gershman described the looming election as the most competitive of Hynes’ 24-year tenure, even more than the close four-way election that Hynes won in 2005.

The issue among Hynes’ detractors, however, remains whether the presence of two other candidates makes it easier for the longtime prosecutor to secure a plurality of the vote to win the primary, which is what happened in 2005. Hynes only beat state Sen. John Sampson by a few thousand votes in the Democratic primary, after two other candidates siphoned off votes.

“The sense is that the office is in bad shape, and the challengers are making legitimate claims,” Gershman said. “The problem is you have two challengers. And if the two challengers gain support, they may split the vote among those against Hynes.”

Hynes campaign spokesman George Arzt said most recent election shouldn’t be more competitive than the grueling four-way race in 2005. Arzt said they plan to prioritize door-to-door field operations and broadcast airtime from now until the primary. The campaign has spent $293,178 during the last six months, the bulk of it on pricey consulting firms such as The Advance Group and Douglas E. Schoen.

“I think that this race, you could speak about the stories in the press, but Joe still has a very positive record,” Arzt said. “And I think the voters in the borough know that. And I think the other two are unknowns without a record. They’ve never held a supervisory role in law enforcement.”

Thompson’s campaign issued a news release Monday afternoon accusing Hynes’ campaign of inflating its cash-on-hand totals last Friday to City & State, which reported Hynes had a $900,000 cash-on-hand balance, based on an anonymous source. City & State Managing Editor Jon Lentz said on Monday that the story was based on a misunderstanding and corrected the post.

Like Thompson, George has been turning to friends with marquee names and big wallets to give his bid a boost. While Thompson has former New York Jets running Back Curtis Martin ($4,000 in total contributions) in his corner, George has actor Chris Noth — aka “Mr. Big” from Sex and the City and Detective Mike Logan from Law & Order.

Last Wednesday, Noth hosted the second of two fundraisers for George at the Cutting Room, a music venue and restaurant owned by Noth. Last year, superstar attorney David Boies contributed $45,000 to George’s campaign.

“I don’t think our numbers are going to be the highest in this whole thing,” George said last week at his fundraiser. “I think Joe Hynes and Ken Thompson are probably going to raise a lot more money, but I think our campaign is the one leading the issues.”

George said he wanted to cease prosecutions on small amounts of marijuana in Brooklyn, and said he wanted to undertake a leadership role in communities affected by stops-and-frisks, which he equated to racial profiling. He also said he wanted to establish a permanent review board to investigate complaints about wrongful convictions and give the two-year-old Conviction Integrity Unit in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office a “fresh face.”

“We need to have a unit that comprised of a permanent board of defense attorneys, judiciaries, and the wrongfully convicted to look at these cases and respond,” George said. “I also think it shouldn’t be a prosecutor that’s entrenched with the Brooklyn prosecutor’s office. It should be a fresh face.”

Thompson, in turn, released a plan last week to modernize the Kings County district attorney’s office by opening a cybercrimes lab to keep pace with identity theft and other sophisticated digital crimes. He also vowed to revamp the way the district attorney’s office tracks and catalogs its caseload, and to make the office’s data open and searchable by the public.

Alex Low, president of the New Kings Democrats, a reform political group in Brooklyn, endorsed George for the district attorney post in May, mainly based on his lack of political connections with the established party machine in Brooklyn. Low said he looks forward to seeing an election that puts Hynes’ office and longstanding political ties to the test.

“Obviously Charles Hynes has the connections and the political establishment,” Low said. “The question is how strong is that establishment? And how well can reform candidates develop a grassroots campaign? It will be a tough race. Hynes has built up a lot of support over the years.”

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