50th Assembly District Leader Lincoln Restler kicked off his campaign for re-election last Thursday, May 3rd, at the Brooklyn Winery. The incumbent Restler will face off against CB1 chair Chris Olechowski on Primary Day, September 11th, in a contest that pits existing Democratic leadership against upstart County Dems, led by Restler.
“Standing up to entrenched political power is never easy,” Restler said in his speech at the launch party, referring to Brooklyn’s current Democratic leadership. “But we believe in this campaign that it’s not only possible, it’s also necessary.”
Restler supporters packed the winery, sipping wine and talking borough politics. As they entered, attendees signed up to volunteer on the Restler campaign and made donations at a welcome table, manned by Restler’s campaign manager Dan Campanelli and Restler’s mother, Susan Restler.
“The bottom line is, Lincoln is an example for other District Leaders across the borough,” Campanelli said. “He’s a great young, dynamic figure who brings people together.”
Restler has been called a politician of the Obama generation—indeed, his work on the president’s 2008 campaign prepared him for his own grassroots bid in 2010, when he ran a campaign that railed against the Democratic powers that be in Brooklyn. He won that race by a hair’s breadth, just 121 votes.
Restler has begun framing this year’s campaign in the same terms. In his brief speech at the launch party, he announced his aim to “build a more reform-minded, progressive Democratic Party” in the borough. He also listed his three highest priorities for the campaign and beyond: to expand a coalition of “reform-minded elected officials and volunteers, to encourage more North Brooklynites to get engaged in community affairs, and to “preserve the affordability of the community” despite development and gentrification. Regarding the latter, Restler stressed the need to preserve existing affordable housing, to prioritize the development of new affordable housing, and to “connect local residents to local jobs.”
As District Leader, Restler has maintained a constant presence in the North Brooklyn community, materializing at many political and community events. “I’ve seen him at like a million different places,” said Jason Shelly, a Restler volunteer who became a supporter after interacting with the candidate so many times around the community. “He’s everywhere.”
“For every hack elected official they elect, we’re going to need 10 progressives,” Restler said, noting the uphill battle of facing down his party’s current leadership.
The room’s energy on Thursday reflected the zeal of a like-minded constituency of Brooklynites set to launch another affront against what they see as the stagnant, entrenched core of the borough’s Democratic Party. Restler darted from group to group, offering hugs and handshakes to attendees and thanking them for their support. Councilmember Diana Reyna attended, and Newtown Creek Alliance Executive Director Kate Zidar gave opening remarks, declaring “there’s nobody as committed to these neighborhoods as [Restler] is.”
“We’re very excited about the turnout,” Campanelli said of the launch party. “I think we’ve got a great core group of support.”