Lincoln Restler became the thorn in the side of the Brooklyn Democratic Party Machine—and its boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, now mired in scandal—two years ago when he eked out a victory over its favorite candidate for State Committeeman in North Brooklyn, an unpaid party-leadership position. Restler, 28, now faces a tough reelection in a redrawn district against community board chairperson (and Machine candidate) Chris Olechowski. They face off in the Democratic primary on September 13.
Remind everybody—what does a District Leader do?
As your District Leader—or State Committeman, as the position appears on your ballot—I’m the leader of the Democratic Party for Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Fort Greene [most registered Democrats in which will be able to vote in this race]. We’re trying to build a new progressive-left Democratic Party in Brooklyn to replace the old guard that has controlled Brooklyn politics since before any of us were born.
You turned a once little-known position into a much more public role. How’d you do that?
Even though my best friend refers to State Committeeman as a step below dog catcher, I see it as a platform to fight for our community. Local politics tends to be pretty obscure, but if our elected officials are actually making a difference on the issues that impact our lives—like our successful effort to stop the MTA from cutting the G Train route or creating more farmer’s markets, community gardens, and neighborhood parks—then people take notice.
Your district was redrawn—how did that happen, and how do you think it’ll affect the race?
I have been an outspoken critic of Brooklyn Machine boss Vito Lopez and, accordingly, he relished the opportunity to cut my old apartment out of the district I represent during the recent redistricting process. I represent a remarkably diverse district, but a majority of actual voters comes from the Hasidic community in Williamsburg. When we were victorious two years ago, we won 80 percent of the vote in Fort Greene, the Northside, and Greenpoint—but only won the election by 121 votes because of the power of the Hasidic block. This election is going to be just as close and we are going to have to mobilize every independent-minded voter in the district to win!