BY HUGH SON
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
With tears in his eyes, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes declared victory in a close race last night - but slammed his challengers for going negative in the bruising campaign.
In a squeaker, Hynes beat his main challenger, state Sen. John Sampson, 41% to 37%.
"I cry a lot. It was a hard-fought race," Hynes said as he walked into the Bay Ridge Manor. "I think it's not a good idea for lawyers to engage in the type of vitriol this campaign saw.
"This collective group demonstrated that progressive programs triumph over negative campaigning," he added.
Hynes spent $1 million to remain Brooklyn's top prosecutor as he battled Sampson, Mark Peters, who took 15% of the vote, and Arnold Kriss, who got 7%.
Sampson consultant Hank Sheinkopf said the close vote was a "stinging rebuke of the incumbent. What it tells you is that the majority of Brooklyn prefer a change."
The challengers in the contentious race all questioned Hynes' integrity during the campaign and pointed to Brooklyn's low felony conviction rates.
Hynes countered by boasting a 73% drop in crime in the borough since he took office in 1990, and touted his innovative drug rehabilitation programs.
Hynes had seven challengers at one point. Hopefuls apparently were encouraged after Sandra Roper, a virtually unknown lawyer, snagged 37% of the vote against Hynes in 2001.
With Sampson the only African-American in the race, some political experts said Hynes was vulnerable. But he won key endorsements from the watchdog group Citizens Union, the teachers union and a slate of elected officials.
The ongoing trial of Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman also served as a backdrop to the race.
Hynes investigated Norman - a former political ally - in 2002 and brought corruption charges against him. Norman backed Sampson, who pledged to reexamine all indictments if elected.