2021 will be a big year for New York City politics. The upcoming mayoral election has already seen a host of challengers hoping to inherit the seat that Mayor Bill de Blasio will leave behind, and city council races are unfolding in many districts as well, including our District 33.
Kicking off an upcoming series of interviews with the candidates who hope to represent our neighborhood, Greenpointers spoke with local activist and city council candidate Lincoln Restler about lowering rent, making us the first carbon-neutral district, and taking on tough fights.
For our readers who might not know you, can you tell us who you are, and what motivated you to run in the first place?
I’ve been a tenant in Greenpoint for well over a decade. I’ve lived just about my whole life in this council district. I grew up in the southern part of it, and moved to Greenpoint not too long after college. This neighborhood taught me how to be an activist. We are very much a DIY community and when Greenpointers [editors’s note: the denizens, not the publication] see a problem, we roll up our sleeves and do something about it. I got involved in local politics and taking on the Brooklyn Democratic machine back over a decade ago. Some friends and I helped found a reform progressive political club called New Kings Democrats back in 2008. A couple years later, I ran to be the district leader for Greenpoint and Williamsburg, taking on the Brooklyn Democratic machine boss. Nobody thought we had a prayer, but we won and began a political upheaval in north Brooklyn that has led to a whole new generation of insurgent progressive elected officials at just about every level of government. I hope to be the champion of that insurgent progressive political movement for Greenpoint in city hall.
What are the top three issues or projects specific to District 33 that you plan to tackle?
My top priority is addressing the climate crisis. We are a waterfront district, and we could very well be deluged by the next big storm. We must do everything in our power to reduce carbon emissions, and that’s why I’m proposing to make the 33rd council district the first carbon neutral district, period. That involves everything from electrifying our housing stock and bringing composting back, to ending fossil fuel infrastructure and new gas hook-ups in new construction. It also means securing the green space that our community desperately needs, from fully building out Bushwick Inlet Park to securing our long promised new park in northern Greenpoint on Commercial Street. I take an activist oriented approach to this work. I was proud to stand with activists in getting arrested to stop construction at the North Brooklyn Pipeline and will bring a similar organizing model to this work, by engaging every renter, homeowner, small business to change our practices, to reduce emissions and be more energy efficient, but also to mobilize our community to demand legislative changes at city hall. I really do believe that when we organize together, there’s nothing we can’t achieve, and if we can make Greenpoint a carbon neutral community, there’s no reason other neighborhoods and cities can’t follow suit.
Another major priority for me is addressing the affordability crisis. I’ve lived in Brooklyn my whole life and despite the extraordinary development that has continued to happen, our neighborhoods get more and more unaffordable, because the development isn’t for us. It’s almost all luxury development. I have two major priorities as a council member to try to address that. One, when a site is being rezoned in our community, I’m going to demand that a majority of the housing is affordable to our community. Secondly, COVID-19 has exacerbated vacancy rates in the housing that’s being built in Greenpoint. We’ve seen a 200-300% increase in vacant apartments, and yet the actual rental prices have stayed nearly flat. I propose a new approach to lower NYC rent that would track vacancies at the local level and work with our state representatives, Emily Gallagher and Julia Salazar, to reduce the rent of longstanding vacant apartments to make them more affordable to working families in our community. In the 33rd district, more than a quarter of tenants pay a majority of their income in rent. That’s not sustainable, that’s not right. We are turning into a city of rich and poor, and we need to start ensuring that the housing that’s sitting vacant and the housing that’s being built is actually affordable to the people who live here and call Greenpoint home.
My third major priority is around policing. We ask the police to respond to every issue under the sun. They’re not trained for it, and it doesn’t make sense. We should be removing cops from schools, homeless shelters, social services, traffic investigations, and polling sites. When a person is in emotional distress, and they call for help, we should send a mental health professional or social worker to go and diffuse the situation in real time. I’m interested in helping to create a new public safety agency, comprised of social workers, mental health professionals, cure violence organizations that can respond in real time, 24/7 to diffuse and de-escalate situations that don’t require police involvement.
You’ve been a district leader, a community board member, and involved in public service for a while now. What are some lessons you’ve learned from those roles that will serve you in this role?
I think that the most important lesson is to show up. I want to be the council member who always shows up, 24/7, 365, to be the resource, the organizer, the first call that neighbors make when they have an issue, whether it’s how do we tackle climate change or how do we get a stop sign on our street corner. Effecting change is hard, and having spent almost 10 years in city government, I’ve learned how to get big, complex things done, like the design and implementation of IDNYC, the ID card that is now in the wallets of millions of New Yorkers. I’ve also learned what not to do. Seeing the De Blasio administration up close, and particularly his failures around policing and real estate, I’ve seen first hand the issues we need to rectify. I never take no for an answer, and I always push like hell until we get the results. An effective elected official always leads with their principles and is oriented to getting shit done.
What is your favorite thing about living in this district?
This district has always been my home. I like to say that I’m born, raised, and always Brooklyn. I’m never gonna live anywhere else. What I love most about Greenpoint is that we really do look out for one another, and as a neighborhood and as a community, when we see a problem, we roll up our sleeves and do something about it. I’ve been profoundly inspired by North Brooklyn Mutual Aid, and how so many of my friends and neighbors take time every week to support people in our community with whatever the challenges are that they might be facing, from helping to secure donations for kids who don’t have laptops at school, to supporting unhoused individuals to help get them the help they need. I love spending an hour every Sunday at McGolrick Park composting and making it easy for people to continue composting despite the city eliminating funding. It’s just a great example of who we are as a neighborhood. City-wide, in this last budget, they eliminated funding for curbside pickup of composting at our homes, and neighbors in Greenpoint decided to create the North Brooklyn Compost Project in multiple parks around our community. Each of us can drop off our compost and have it taken to a composting facility, and thousands of people do it every single week, because we believe in it and know it makes a difference. We created the infrastructure ourselves, the community has responded enthusiastically, and we’re making a difference. That’s what Greenpoint is all about, and that’s why I love living here, and why I would love to represent this community.
Any other last thoughts about what our readers should know about you?
I’m really proud to be the progressive candidate in this race, with the strong support of the Working Families party, Julia Salazar, the leading progressive organizations and labor unions across Brooklyn and New York City. I’m proud to be the person that they have confidence will be a change agent at city hall to address the issues of climate change, affordability, policing, and so much more. In the way that Julia has gone to the State Senate and been a thorn in the side of the powers that be, that’s how I hope to represent this community, our community, in the city council. I have taken on tough fights from machine bosses to real estate developers in our neighborhood for years, and as a council member, I want to lift up all the great activists and leaders in the community so that we together can be successful in realizing a neighborhood that is more affordable and more sustainable.
New York City’s 2021 Primary Election is on June 21. Ranked-choice voting will allow voters to select their top five candidates for each position. Greenpointers will feature an interview with every City Council Candidate for District 33. Catch up on our conversations with Victoria Cambranes, Ben Solotaire, and Elizabeth Adams.