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August 9th, 2013

OTBKB Asks: 5 Questions for Kenneth Thompson (Candidate for Bklyn DA)

BY MATTHEW A. TAUB

A partner in a private law practice and a former federal prosecutor, Kenneth Thompson was already involved in some of New York City’s most controversial criminal cases when he made further shockwaves by announcing his intention to enter the race for Brooklyn District Attorney, taking on incumbent Charles “Joe” Hynes, who has held the position since 1990.Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn’s Matthew Taub sat down with candidate Thompson for a few questions.

1. You attracted considerable attention a few years ago when you began representing Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel housekeeper who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, of sexual assault. The handling of the case came under criticism from lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn and from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which eventually dropped the criminal charges because of questions about Ms. Diallo’s truthfulness. What can you tell us about the civil and criminal case(s) involved in this matter, and your role? Were you were satisfied with the overall outcome?

Kenneth Thompson: In my career as an attorney in public service as well as in private practice, I have fought for victims—victims of violence, discrimination at work, civil rights abuses and sexual assault. In this case, it was clear to me from the outset that Ms. Diallo needed a lot of help to face some very powerful forces. I’m proud that I was able to get Ms. Diallo justice in the civil courts. Because of the settlement, Ms. Diallo will be able to pull the pieces of her life back together after this horrific experience and will now be able to move forward.

OTBKB: District Attorney Hynes has been in office for twenty-three years—he is considered by many to be the mainstream choice, an incumbent with strong institutional backing—at the very least, a formidable candidate to take on. Why should Brooklynites believe that it’s time for him to go?

THOMPSON: Our campaign has the momentum for change, and support is growing every day. In addition to the support of Abe George, our campaign has earned the endorsement of the Amsterdam News, Assemblymember Dov Hikind, 1199/SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, which represents 220,000 members in New York City and over 100,000 members and retirees in Brooklyn alone. We’ve also won the support of Brooklyn Congressmembers Yvette Clarke and Hakeem Jeffries, Bay Ridge Democrats, Lambda Independent Democrats, Brooklyn-Queens NOW PAC and Muslim Democrats of New York. The reason we are getting so much support is because everywhere I go, people agree that it is time for a change. Under the current leadership, Brooklyn reports of wrongful convictions are coming out every day it seems, and we have the lowest felony conviction rate of any DA’s office in the City. Because of Hynes’ gross incompetence, a potential cop killer was let out of prison without bail. There is something very disturbing about Hynes’ judgment when he promotes a prosecutor whose coercion of false testimony, lies in court and intimidation of witnesses caused a man to be wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years. Enough is enough. As Brooklyn D.A., I will fight to ensure that innocent New Yorkers are not locked up for crimes they didn’t commit while criminals go free, and that prosecutors are held accountable – not promoted or given a reality tv show – when they violate the public trust. That just can’t happen – we need a tough, hands on, but fair prosecutor in this borough to fight for justice, and make our communities safer and stronger.

OTBKB: Former Manhattan prosecutor and Sheepshead Bay native Abe George was a third candidate in the race, but he recently dropped out, endorsing you instead. What were former candidate’s George’s positions and platforms that coalesced with your own, and in what ways did you differ?

THOMPSON: Abe and I are on the same page – we both feel strongly that Brooklyn can’t afford another 4 years of the failed Hynes administration. Among other things, he agrees that we have to fight to end the pattern of wrongful convictions and prosecutorial misconduct that has tainted the D.A.’s office, and bring common sense reform to the criminal justice system. Together, we will keep fighting for a safer and stronger Brooklyn where there is one set of rules for everyone, and equal justice is more than words etched into a court house wall.

OTBKB:  Another area Hynes has received criticism is with regard to the Hasidic community—both for prosecuting the perpetrators of sexual assault (by those within the community embarrassed by the negative exposure) and for not prosecuting them enough, or even punishing the whistleblowers. Assemblyman Dov Hikind, influential in the Hasidic community, recently endorsed your candidacy, rather than Hynes (as expected). What does this endorsement mean to you, and what can this community expect from you as a District Attorney?

THOMPSON: I have a proven track record of fighting for one standard of justice for every community, unlike DA Hynes who has overseen a dysfunctional office that has often pitted members of the Orthodox Jewish community – and other communities – against each other. He has said that Orthodox Jews are “insular” and worse than the Mafia. Brooklyn needs new leadership that won’t just flail around and prosecute inconsistently depending on which way the political wind blows, we need a new DA who will protect every community. I’m honored to have the support of Assemblyman Hikind, and I’m proud of the support we’re getting every day from Borough Park to Bushwick. People from all Brooklyn communities can expect a fair trial and equal justice, that’s what I will deliver as DA.

OTBKB: What is your history and upbringing in the borough of Brooklyn? How do you plan to employ your perspective to change the DA’s office, and reform the criminal justice system?

THOMPSON: I grew up in the projects in the Bronx, was raised by a single mother, and moved to Brooklyn when I became a federal prosecutor in the Clinton administration. My upbringing looms large in informing my perspective today. My mother was one of the first female cops of the NYPD to walk a beat in New York in the 70s. She risked her life to provide for me and my brother and sister; but also because she had a fundamental belief in justice for all. That stuck with me. And I’ve dedicated my career to the fight for equal justice —as a federal prosecutor seeking justice for people like Abner Louima, and as a private attorney fighting for victims of assault, discrimination and civil rights violations. And that’s why I am running for District Attorney: because the people of Brooklyn deserve a DA who believes in fighting crime and corruption wherever it exists. It’s clear that the office’s old-fashioned approach is not solving all of today’s problems. I will not only fight crime, but I will also make sure every case is investigated and prosecuted with integrity so that justice prevails.

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