Gotham Gazette Reports: notable win against the old Brooklyn Democratic machine came from Lincoln Restler, who put his political reform club on the Lopez radar after reeling in $60,000 for his successful district leader campaign to defeat a Lopez-backed candidate in Williamsburg.
Despite the win, Restler recollected the initial struggles he had encountered in his first race for district leader. “I was surprised by how few people were willing to stick their neck out and stand up in support of my first, our first campaign, to try and shake up the old democratic machine in North Brooklyn,” he told the Gazette.
Restler’s route to politics is unlike many of his political counterparts. He said if he wasn’t involved in Brooklyn political reform, he would probably focus on academia and live in the Caribbean. In 2010, he co-authored a study on financial literacy among Dominicans in New York City for the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute.
Restler’s group, NKD, was created in 2008 by a group of twenty to thirty year olds who wanted to use their momentum from the Obama campaign to get local people involved in local politics. The more people get involved, the fewer of Lopez’s organizations candidates are gifted seats.
Getting all kinds of people involved in progressive Democratic politics from all walks of life is a goal of the organization.
Restler said his experiences working with local people to build community gardens and organize against subway cuts were examples of the open and inclusive process needed in politics today.
“These are substantive examples of Brooklynites taking ownership of the issues they care about in their community,” he said.
While it is also an unpaid position, being a district leader does carry some weight: they select poll workers, select civil court judge nominees and elect county chairs.
A recent press conference showcased the growing support Restler and his movement enjoys as it was attended by many politicians including Congressman Jerry Nadler, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Brooklyn Senators Eric Adams, Daniel Squadron and Velmanette Montgomery, Assembly Members Joan Millman and Jim Brennan, and Council Members Diana Reyna and Brad Lander.
“Everyone that I talk to is intrigued by the prospect of dismantling the old Brooklyn machine and replacing it with a new Brooklyn Democratic party that is reflective of our values,” Restler said.
Restler said Jesus Gonzalez, who made a failed bid for the Assembly in 2011, is also a good friend of his. Restler said Gonzalez has the ability to connect with northeastern Brooklyn in “very deep and real ways.”
Last year, in Bushwick’s state Assembly special election, Lopez backed Rafeal Espinal, who defeated the young community organizer Gonzalez in an impossibly close race.
“His commitment to social justice, long time dedication to police accountability, and his talent for youth organizing are exactly the skill set I would hope for in an elected official,” Restler said.
Bill Samuels, head of the New Roosevelt Initiative, said he was impressed with young reformers like Williamsburg’s Restler running for district leader and Bushwick’s Gonzalez now running for City Council.
He said young people should find other ways to get involved with the community if they want to be a political leader.
“In the long run people should want to go to law school, be a reporter, or a community organizer so they don’t have to beg some boss,” he said.