The Prosecutor Plays Defense: Can D.A. Hynes Have It Both Ways on Hasidic Molesters?

“It’s kind of funny, he’s supposedly the guy placating the Hasidim, but I’m not sure the rank-and-file member of the community, the voter, wants that treatment,” noted Lew Fidler, a New York City Councilman who served as Mr. Hynes’s campaign manager when he first ran for office in the late 1980s and then later when he made a failed bid for state attorney general in the mid-1990s. “Do you know how many rabbi leaders there are and different factions of the community? It’s not a monolith, so the view that he’s just pandering to this majority is false.”

Mr. Hynes has not left it merely to chance that his intensified efforts to win justice for victims receive attention. According to Mark Appel, in early July, Mr. Hynes arranged a series of meetings with a small and influential group of Hasidic community members who have been vocal supporters of molestation victims. Arranged through Anita Altman, a liaison he uses as a go-between with the Orthodox community, the talks were proposed as a platform for victims’ supporters to speak directly with Mr. Hynes and his top prosecutors and voice their concerns.

“It was a vehicle, so everyone could have a safe environment to work out their differences,” Mr. Appel said.

Predictably, the conversation quickly turned to the issue of releasing the names of the accused. Mr. Hynes again refused, and when the meeting adjourned, its participants emerged wondering what the purpose of the get-together had been, given how intractable the district attorney appeared.

The next day, Mr. Appel received his answer. The Jewish Daily Forward, a popular publication in Hasidic precincts, published a report describing how Mr. Hynes had reached out to key victims’ representatives.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Appel said. “He had set the whole thing up to create this illusion.”

Mr. Hynes or his people had apparently leaked the story in order to create the impression he was tightening his relationship with the victims’ groups and to ameliorate their persistent criticism of him. (Mr. Hynes’s office declined to comment on the matter.)
In reality, Mr. Appel said, Mr. Hynes continues to shelter the identity of accused molesters as an ongoing gesture to powerful rabbis who would still prefer to sweep the molestation issue under the carpet.

“With all the scrutiny the community has received, maybe they know it’s not possible to hide from the issue anymore,” Mr. Appel said. “The continued withholding of names, though, would at least seem like some small conciliation.”

Always the savvy political animal, Mr. Hynes had figured out a way to placate both sides.
No icon wants controversy to be the coda of a proud career, and if Mr. Hynes wasn’t content to finally retire after his sixth term, he is even more reluctant after the Hasidic molestation scandal. Re-election won’t be the cakewalk it was in 2009, however, when he ran unopposed. It’s already clear that Mr. Hynes will have at least one challenger next year: Mr. George, who resigned a prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office after announcing his candidacy earlier this summer.

In recent weeks, Mr. George, who is 33, excitedly filled in The Observer on the essence of his campaign—that he can bring the sophistication of Manhattan’s District Attorney’s Office that has been lacking in Brooklyn and inject the office with a new vigor and novel approaches to stubborn problems—like persistent gun violence in the borough’s most troubled neighborhoods.

“I don’t think that Charles Hynes has gotten to the issue of violent crime in Brooklyn,” Mr. George said. “Brooklyn still leads the city in homicides and shootings. He always talks about reducing crime by whatever statistic he uses, 89 percent, but how much of that is simply gentrification?”

Mr. George doesn’t have backers like Al Sharpton to vouch for him, of course. And, at the time he spoke with The Observer in mid August, he fretted that the political machine in Brooklyn presented daunting challenges for an outsider candidate. After all, Vito Lopez, the Democratic Party boss, had endorsed Mr. Hynes for office.

“There are so many ways a guy like Vito can make it hard for a candidate like me,” Mr. George said.