When Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes first took office in 1990, the New York City borough was one of the most violent urban areas in the United States.
Mobster John Gotti led the Gambino organized crime family, crack cocaine was epidemic and many of the plotlines for a TV show that debuted that year, “Law & Order,” were pulled from cases Hynes was prosecuting.
And David Ranta was convicted of fatally shooting a Brooklyn rabbi.
Twenty-three years later, Brooklyn has undergone a renaissance, becoming home to movie stars, million-dollar condominiums and a record-low crime rate. And Ranta, now 58, is a free man, his conviction overturned last week when, upon review, the case against him fell apart.
The Ranta case may weigh on Hynes, 77, as he prepares to seek a seventh term in office. Hynes, who has deftly navigated Brooklyn’s ethnic politics and sensational crime, suddenly appears vulnerable to younger challengers after a series of wrongful convictions by his office were overturned.
As the incumbent, Hynes remains the favorite in September’s Democratic primary. The winner will be heavily favored against any Republican in the November general election.
When Ranta stepped out of the courtroom a free man for the first time since 1990, Hynes was a block away in his 19th-floor office overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge, saying the Ranta case vindicated his Conviction Integrity Unit, created in 2011 to revisit questionable cases.
“It’s very, very difficult to realize you’ve convicted an innocent man,” Hynes told Reuters in an interview last Thursday, his shoulders slumping at the thought.
By turns charming, defensive, insightful and sarcastic, Hynes vigorously defended his record as an innovator who helped restore safety and prosperity to Brooklyn’s patchwork of ethnic enclaves.
After an unexpectedly close primary challenge in 2005, Hynes said, he embarked on a “seven-year campaign” to reconnect with his constituents, promoting the dozens of social services and prison diversion programs he had created, including those that provide former prison inmates with job training and steer at-risk youth back into school.