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Keeping Up With Joe Hynes

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Mr. Integrity
Hecklers during a march against racism in Howard Beach, 1986. “When I first got the job, I was the guy on the white horse … the Howard Beach guy, Mr. Integrity,” says Hynes.  

“Before 2005, I never had to worry about getting reelected,” he says. “I thought for the longest time that Howard Beach gave me an absolute cornered market on African-­Americans. That was foolish. If you switched that vote by 2.5 percent, I was gone. It was a mistake I’ll never make again.”

All of which is why green-lighting Brooklyn DA must seem like a good idea to him. It’s a way to get his name back out there: Howard Beach, Part II. He denies the show is an election ploy; the CBS people came to him and made the decision on when it airs. “I didn’t pick the time,” he says, but the show’s schedule has forced him into a defensive crouch.

When the treatment for the series was leaked to the Daily News, the paper jokingly called him a threat to the Kardashians. Hynes bristles at the implication that Brooklyn DA is reality television. “Anyone who knows anything about me would know that I would hardly be involved with a reality show,” he says.

Hynes also isn’t worried about how he will be portrayed. As his own best narrator, he knows the show’s producers can’t make anyone look too bad. If the characters aren’t likable, nobody will watch. “They’re not looking to make a negative show,” he says. He knows some of the stuff they shot, not everything. “They followed one of my executives who loves to cook, an Asian kid, and they followed him around the grocery store,” he says. “It’s a lot of human-interest stuff.”

The human-interest stuff is another ­reason why the show is such a good move. It changes the conversation and humanizes the office at a time when so many tainted cases are surfacing.

As we talk in his office, an hour goes peacefully by. Hynes’s phone doesn’t ring; aides don’t come barging in. Before he goes downstairs to pick up some cottage cheese for lunch, he dismisses the criticism as overblown, a few problem cases among hundreds of thousands over the decades. He’s not bothered by all the bad press, he insists. He has a secret for handling it. He learned it years ago after his first bad tabloid headline, which he remembers as “1-800-CRONY.”

“Because they’re saying he brings all his cronies in,” Hynes recalls. He was devastated. His instinct was to lie low. He called Louis Lefkowitz, the former state attorney general, who told him to go out to an event—any event. Hynes found a dinner-dance in Bensonhurst and went with his wife. He called Lefkowitz the next morning, and Lefkowitz asked him what happened. “I said, ‘They treated me like traveling royalty.’ He said, ‘Right. Because you’re the D.A.’ ”

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