Former New Kings Democrats leader and aide to Mayor Bill De Blasio (D) Lincoln Restler (D) announced his candidacy Thursday to succeed Stephen Levin (D-Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, Fulton Ferry, Greenpoint, Vinegar Hill, Williamsburg) as the representative for the City Council’s 33rd District.
A lifelong Brooklynite, Restler has been involved in local politics since he was very young. Shortly after graduating from Brown University, he volunteered with the 2008 presidential campaign of then-Senator Barack Obama (D).
“Following that [primary] election when we earned 49% of the vote, it was strongest showing of any county in all of New York for…Obama. We decided to roll up our sleeves and get active in Brooklyn politics,” Restler recalled.
“We realized that our activism and organizing almost delivered a majority of the vote of Brooklyn for Obama, despite every elected official and stakeholder and and power and institution in the borough kind of lining up behind, the local senator, Hillary Clinton (D).”
This experience led him to help found the New Kings Democrats in 2008 and “ever since [has] been a thorn in the side of the Brooklyn Democratic machine.”
“I was the first New Kings leader to seek political office and ran an insurgent campaign for district leader in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, back in 2010,” Restler told KCP. “Nobody thought we had a prayer, but I knocked on every door I possibly could, and, and we managed to win by 121 votes.”
He continued. “We successfully advocated for a new supermarket in a food desert and ensured that 90% of the people hired were actually local public housing residents. We fought to extend the G train into Southern Brooklyn. We flipped multiple vacant sites into community gardens. We affected real change in positive ways, without a salary or staff or really any power whatsoever, but we made a difference in the neighborhood.”
Restler has made it clear that he does not plan to run in relation to Levin, insisting that “I’m running to be my own man.” Still, he praised Levin’s work in helping the homeless, child protection, general welfare, and historic preservation, while suggesting his support of a budget that did not adequately divert resources from the police to other services is a point of difference.
“There was an opportunity for us to get cops out of schools once and for all, to take new approaches to public safety so we can better help people who are experiencing mental health episodes or substance use disorders get the help they need from people who have the trained expertise to deal with it, rather than sending a person with a gun into their home,” lamented Restler.
On policy, Restler considers lowering rents his top priority, citing the challenges rising rents pose to local residents and businesses. “There are more commercial storefront vacancies than ever. I was walking down Montague Street last week and found 18 empty storefronts on just two blocks. Where I live in Greenpoint, there’ve been 100 businesses that have closed in Greenpoint and Williamsburg since the pandemic began,” he told this reporter.
“The residential rental market is even more broken. In DUMBO, there’s been a 200% increase in available apartments since last year, and in Greenpoint, it’s over 100% increase. And yet there’s been essentially no decline in the rental market. So it’s time that we intervene and take up, and we cannot sit by and let this slow-motion devastation happen all around.”
When asked what he can do that his opponents for the seat cannot, Restler touted his personal background and professional accomplishments to make the case for his election. “I’m a neighborhood kid who has lived in this community my entire life, and I know people on almost every block of this district,” he said.
“When it comes to addressing issues, big and small, from climate change to getting a stop sign installed, I know how to get things done. And I’m gonna put forward big ideas, and relentless work ethic to make a difference and restore people’s faith and confidence in government.”