Most politicians know that their words are scrutinized and so try to be straightforward. But what are we to think when a politician announces he is running for office (in this case, Brooklyn District Attorney) while running away from his record?

New York City Councilman Vincent Gentile has served three terms in the City Council and so cannot run for re-election. Since he needs a new job, Gentile is now running for Brooklyn District Attorney and that’s where the trouble starts.

What Happened with the Brooklyn District Attorney?

In 2013, long-time Brooklyn District Attorney Charlie “Joe” Hynes lost his re-election bid for a seventh term, in part because of a record of wrongfully-convicting innocent people. His challenger, Ken Thompson, won on a promise of reforming the District Attorney’s office and focusing on justice rather than convictions. However, after just two and a half years in office, Thompson came down with cancer and died.

Thompson’s chief assistant, Eric Gonzalez, took over as District Attorney and is now running for a full term but faces a crowded field of challengers. Last night, Vincent Gentile added his name to the mix.

Now Here’s Where It Gets Messy

In 2013, when Hynes ran for re-election, Vincent Gentile endorsed him.

Last night, however, when Gentile announced his campaign for District Attorney, he bashed the other candidates for their ties to Hynes and wrapped himself in the legacy of Ken Thompson:

“I’m the best person to carry the mantle, to pick up the mantle, from Ken Thompson….
“Everybody else in this race has a history with a checkered past in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office. They were in the office, in management roles, during the time of Charles Hynes and during the time that these wrongful convictions were being had.”

Now, Gentile says that he endorsed Hynes in 2013, not knowing “the inner workings of his office.” In a statement to ShakingNews, he elaborated “Clearly, Charles Hynes and his staff made a lot of wrong turns, most notably with regard to the wrongful prosecutions of 22 individuals.”

What Was Known

In fact, however, at least some of the problems of Brooklyn District Attorney’s office were known. As far back as 2012, a man named Jabbar Collins sued Hynes for $150 million after being convicted for murder and serving 15 years in prison. One of Hynes’ top aides was accused of threatening to beat up a witness if he didn’t help finger Collins for the murder. In the midst of the campaign Collins’ lawyers interviewed Hynes about the case, and it was a major issue.

Thompson also criticized Hynes for his involvement convicting multiple other innocent people. When Thompson won, he specifically mentioned the wrongful convictions in his victory speech.

Gentile did tell ShakingNews that he endorsed Thompson in the general election. By that point, however, Thompson had already won the Democratic nomination which is tantamount to getting elected in deep-blue Brooklyn.

Gentile’s Other Problems

Gentile doesn’t have the proudest record to run on, either. He served in the State Senate from 1997-2002 before losing re-election to Martin Golden, then a City Councilman. When Golden left his Council seat to become a Senator, Gentile ran for the seat and won. In 2015, Gentile ran for Congress to succeed Michael Grimm after Grimm resigned after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion. Gentile lost to current Republican Congressman Dan Donovan 59%-39%.

In the City Council, Gentile hasn’t fared much better. Until 2014, the City Council Speaker had the final say in giving out funding for projects. Then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn froze out Gentile, giving him less money to distribute than almost any other City Council Member. Adding to the litany, a former aide with Asperger’s Syndrome is suing Gentile for $10 million for harassment and discrimination. In 2004, another staffer accused Gentile of sexual harassment, though the NYC Human Rights Commission investigated and described Gentile’s behavior as “harmless”.

Given that record, it’s not a surprise that Vincent Gentile wants to focus his campaign for Brooklyn District Attorney on something else. In doing so, he’s contributing to the widespread perception of politicians as untrustworthy.

 

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Note: The author created the websites for the campaigns of both Vincent Gentile and Charlie Joe Hynes in 2013.

 

UPDATE 4/6/17 1:16 PM: After an email from Gentile’s spokesperson, added that the Human Rights Commission investigated and described Gentile’s behavior as “harmless”.

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein

Posted by Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein is the founder of ShakingNews.

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