A District Leader election was hardly the most high profile race on Primary Day. 50th Assembly District Leader Lincoln Restler changed that perception two years ago as a young upstart trying to buck the Brooklyn political establishment. On September 13th, the popular incumbent faces another challenge, this one by Community Board 1 Chairman Chris Olechowski.
Despite long odds, Restler eked out a 2010 victory over Warren Cohn by a mere 121 votes. Since then, Restler has spent his tenure as District Leader—a “highly lucrative” unpaid office as he calls it—working doggedly to make his presence felt in the community. He has also taken up the mantle as outgoing Kings County Democratic Leader Vito Lopez’s most vocal critic in the Brooklyn heavyweight’s own backyard.
“I stood up to Vito Lopez before it was the fashionable thing to do,” said Restler. “We have brought real attention to the Brooklyn machine and its cronies who have been operating in their own self-interest rather than the community’s interest. I believe that the voters of Greenpoint want an independent minded elected official who puts their priorities first.”
Restler and his supporters have painted the challenger as a tool of the political establishment, running with the support of Lopez as well as City Councilmember Steve Levin.
Restler, perhaps emboldened by Lopez’s recent sexual harassment allegations and the subsequent loss of his chairmanship of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, has continued to hammer away at his opponent, his candor growing sharper as the election draws nearer.
“The serious allegations found to be credible by the Assembly that Vito has been operating as a sexual predator for a period of years are profoundly disturbing,” he said. “Every elected official should publicly renounce his indefensible actions, especially the elected officials whose campaigns have been run by Vito Lopez, including Chris Olechowski.”
Restler’s campaign has been buttressed by a slew of big name endorsements from all over the city, from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio to Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, herself a longtime foe of Lopez. But none may be more critical to his re-election chances than the support of Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who had previously declined to endorse a candidate in the race.
“Lincoln and I are both born-and-raised Brooklynites,” Lentol said in a statement. “Like me, Lincoln knows that what makes our community great is the people. That’s why Lincoln has spent the last two years fighting for the people of the 50th [district], working to make our quality of life better.”
Still, Restler knows that he cannot rely solely on support from fellow elected officials. He’s made sure to highlight his achievements as District Leader fighting larger battles like keeping the G train route open to smaller accomplishments such as helping to bring farmer’s markets to the local neighborhoods. Restler hopes that his visibility and advocacy for the district will not go unnoticed and that voters will recognize the significance this race holds for the betterment of the community.
“Often times, most people think of it as their duty to pull the lever and vote for the President of the United States. And we do need to get Obama re-elected. But many of the issues that we care about are addressed by local officials. If we have people with integrity and a real work ethic, we can actually solve meaningful problems in the community.”