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Harper's, February, 2005: DA Hynes's Response to Christopher Ketcham's article

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Posted by GET NY on 19:15:53 02/20/05

Letter in response to
Meet The New Boss
Man vs. Machine Politics in Brooklyn

Christopher Ketcham's accusation that I committed a felony is the worst journalistic excess I have seen in my long public career. He shows a deliberate disregard of the facts surrounding my voter-registration record and of the prosecution of John O'Hara, whose activities he links with me. It is sloppy reporting at its worst.

Ketcham maliciously and falsely states that I am "guilty of almost the very same crime [O'Hara committed], having once registered to vote from [my] Brooklyn office." O'Hara's crimes, which I prosecuted in 1999, were filing a false instrument, false voter registration, and illegal voting. That Ketcham equated the knowing and intentional criminal activities of O'Hara to the actions of the Board of Elections ("BOE") in changing, with out my knowledge or consent, the address on my voter-registration card ("buff card"), is in reckless disregard of the truth.

The facts are: In 1996 I sold my Flatbush home, where I had raised my family, and moved to Bay Ridge with my wife, where we still reside. I submitted a request to the U.S. Postal Service to forward my mail to my Brooklyn office. The Postal Service, under its National Change of Address system ("NCOA"), forwarded, without my knowledge, notice of my request to the BOE, which-I now know -- then filled out a new buff card that erroneously noted a change in my voting address.

While Ketcham was researching the article, he had a lengthy conversation with my press secretary and the O'Hara prosecutor. During that interview Ketcham showed them a copy of this 1996 buff card and questioned them about it. Buff cards and voting histories are available for public inspection at the BOE, and Ketcham claimed to have visited that agency to research my voting history. The copy he produced clearly showed that my signature was not an original; it was truncated, misaligned, and appeared to be from a different document. I now know from BOE employees that they cut off my signature from a prior buff card and scotch-taped it to the new one. The clearly marked "NCOA" notation in the signature area signals that the information came from the Postal Service and not from me.

With a few questions, all this information was readily available from the BOE. However, Ketcham now attempts to hide behind the veil that it was my obligation to explain to him the card and its contents. In my business that's called "blaming the victim."

To make the preposterous leap that I committed the same crime as O'Hara, Ketcham misstates not only the facts of the O'Hara case but the law on which the charges against O'Hara were based. Contrary to Ketcham, the facts are not that O'Hara "lived in two apartments in Brooklyn," one on 61st Street and another on 47th Street, and chose to register and vote from one that "unfortunately, appeared not to fit the parameters of... `a fixed permanent and principal home"' as defined in what Ketcham calls the "ridiculous language of New York. State election law." Rather, as New York's highest court noted in People v. O'Hara: "Here, the jury was not asked, as defendant claims, to determine whether as between two residences defendant picked the more appropriate one. The sole issue here was whether defendant genuinely took up residence at 553 47th Street for voting purposes." The jurors emphatically answered, "No." Four appellate courts, both state and federal, reviewed O'Hara's conviction and affirmed it. Federal District Court Judge John Gleeson stated it succinctly when he decided one of O'Hara's unsuccessful attempts to overturn his conviction: "I find the evidence to have been extremely powerful, bordering on the overwhelming." "The theory of the case," Gleeson stated, "wasn't [that] he lives in both places, one place part of the time, one place more often." The real question was whether 553 47th Street "was a sham or a real residence." Obviously, neither Ketcham nor O'Hara can assert that Judge Gleeson, a federal judge nominated by the president of the United States, is a "hack" whose affirmance of the conviction is part of a corrupt Brooklyn political machine's attempt to punish what Ketcham calls a "political party reformer."

Testimony established that O'Hara did not live in any apartment on 47th Street but lived fourteen blocks away on 61st Street. The unfinished, junk-filled basement with an open toilet that O'Hara claimed was his "apartment" was an uninhabitable sham residence, intended to permit him to vote and campaign in the election district where he was a perennial candidate and which, after redistricting, no longer included his true residence.

Many New Yorkers have multiple residences; they must choose one for voting purposes. It is legally irrelevant if your voting residence is a cabin, a pied-à-terre, or a cold-water walkup -- it must be an actual residence. There's no quibbling about whether the residence is primary or secondary: just choose one -- a real one. That's not what O'Hara did. He concocted a completely fraudulent residence. O'Hara could have continued to vote and run for office unimpeded if he had done so from any bona fide residence. It was the brazen violation of the election law that set O'Hara's case apart from others. If O'Hara wasn't guilty, then the voter-registration statute is meaningless, should be repealed, and people permitted to vote wherever they want. That, of course, does away with the concept of local elections involving local community matters being decided by those actually living in the area and affected by the outcome. Incidentally, the wholesale transportation of voters from one polling place to another was one of the tricks used by Tammany Hall to maintain its grip on New York City politics.

O'Hara's misrepresentation of his case is understandable. What is inexplicable is Ketcham's lack of skepticism, notwithstanding O'Hara's established pattern of deceit with reference to the election law. In 1994 the Village Voice -- no apologist for machine politics -- deemed him worthy of a "lifetime achievement award" for a decade's worth of election fraud.

Not content with merely adopting O'Hara's worldview, Ketcham also rewrites my personal history, describing me as "a pure creature of the Brooklyn machine." His history lesson skips over the fact that I wasn't the Brooklyn Democratic Party's choice when I first ran for district attorney in the 1989 primary. Ketcham derides corruption and case-fixing in Brooklyn's courts but neglects to mention that there is a corruption indictment pending against judge Gerald Garson that I brought. It is ridiculous that Ketcham cites the case of ex-judge Victor Barron as evidence of Brooklyn's judicial corruption but neglects to note that I investigated Barron for accepting a bribe to fix a case and secured his conviction. If I were the party's enforcer when I prosecuted O'Hara for "the impudence of his candidacies," as Ketcham alleges, then my pending, but unmentioned, corruption and fraud indictment of State Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr. (the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party) would be incomprehensible. In fact, some political pundits have politely opined that my actions sound the death knell for my political life in overwhelmingly Democratic Brooklyn. They are dead wrong, as is Ketcham when he accuses me of committing a crime.

A final comment: Ketcham distorts the history of the Susan B. Anthony voting case by linking it to O'Hara's. His comparison does a disservice to Anthony and her legacy of civil disobedience in pursuit of equality for women. She was not prosecuted under New York State law, as a reader of Ketcham's article is left to infer; rather, she was prosecuted in federal court for knowingly voting without having a lawful right when she voted in the 1872 federal election. The trial judge directed a guilty verdict because, at that time, New York State had not accorded women the right to vote. O'Hara, on the other hand, was convicted in state court for election fraud when he knowingly lied about his address when registering to vote and when he then voted using this same sham address.

An honest story about machine politics in Brooklyn could have been written. Instead, you exalted a convicted felon and libeled me.

Charles J. Hynes
District Attorney

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