Out of the eight candidates who ran to represent Greenpoint on the New York City Council, Lincoln Restler emerged victorious, earning 63% of the votes in the 33rd district’s Democratic primary. After interviewing him in February, we caught up with the future council member to talk about the upcoming slate of city council members, why ranked choice voting is good for local democracy, and how he’d spend his ideal day in District 33.
Congratulations on your win! How does it feel?
It’s profoundly humbling. It’s both extraordinarily exciting and there are a gazillion things that I can’t wait to dive into, but it also is a feeling of responsibility, and I’m very keen to start actually solving problems and making a difference in the neighborhood and in people’s lives.
This was the first year for ranked choice voting. What was your impression of how it all unfolded?
Despite the evergreen structural challenges at the Board of Elections, I think ranked choice voting is really good for local democracy, and we saw meaningful increases in turnout. I think that ranked choice voting encourages candidates to build broad and diverse coalitions across their district. You can’t rely on the support of just Greenpoint or just Brooklyn Heights. You gotta be able to build across disparate communities. That’s good for the district as a whole, and while it was a steep learning curve for voters this year, I think over the next couple of cycles of elections, we will acclimate ourselves and grow accustomed to this new way of voting.
The other thing I would say that I really like about ranked choice voting that I think is healthy for our democracy is that voters don’t have to compromise. They can rank the candidates that they love the most first, second and third, and maybe think more pragmatically about their fourth and fifth slots, but it feels like we’re not choosing between the lesser of evils, but rather getting to rank folks by preference in a positive or affirming way. I think it’s a good thing for our local democracy.
North Brooklyn has really developed into this progressive political hotspot. The new city council district is poised to be the most diverse and progressive in the city’s history. What do you make of the incoming city council slate?
I couldn’t agree more that North Brooklyn has become a progressive political powerhouse. It’s been a relatively quick transformation over the last decade. When I first ran for district leader here in 2010, we were pushing a progressive, reform oriented agenda [and it was] totally uphill. The machine boss who controlled Brooklyn represented the adjacent neighborhoods in the southside into Bushwick. We have collectively elected a whole new generation of leadership that have stridently progressive values. And I think we’re really in sync with the neighborhood and our community.
I think that the incoming council has got a really strong cohort of dynamic, inspiring, progressive members. When you look across Brooklyn… you have a real block of members committed to police accountability and improving our public safety system, housing justice, and environmental justice. I think together we have the opportunity to affect some real change. The nature of entering into a 51 member legislative body is that one member can only do so much. But you coalition with likeminded folks, and we can make things happen. Since the election I’ve been having coffees and drinks and meals with some of my future colleagues and I’m just totally lifted up by their energy and experience and our shared values.
How will the more progressive wing of the party potentially work under an Adams administration?
I see my job as representing the values, interests and priorities of the people who live in our district. Our city charter creates a very strong mayoral position, and I’m gonna do my best to work collaboratively with the incoming Adams administration on all the issues where we can find common ground, and if necessary, push back to fight for our community. My goal is to identify areas of commonality at the start to develop a meaningful working relationship for progressive members and the incoming mayor. On issues like enhancing pedestrian space, more protective bike lanes, investing in the crisis management system or cure violence organizations as a kind of alternative approach to traditional policing, there could be some areas where we could work together really effectively.
You have a day off but you have to spend it all in District 33. Where are you going and what are you eating?
Wake up early, go pick up a cup of coffee at Paloma (117 Meserole Ave), which is my new favorite coffee place, make our way over to McGolrick [Park], chill, read, buy the newspapers, because I still love old newspapers and whenever I can take a day to not read them on my phone, but enjoy the tactile hard copy. Would then Citi Bike up to Anella (222 Franklin Street) for a good brunch, hang out in their backyard. I love the food and I love the owners Blair and Josh. If I’m really in treat myself mode, I would make my way to my favorite ice cream shop, which is the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (97 Commercial Street), and then walk with my ice cream along the waterfront, stop into Transmitter [Park], read a bit there and chill, and then probably bike down and chill at my favorite greenspace in our area which is called Grand Ferry Park, a little park space at the end of Grand Street in Williamsburg on the water, read more and hang. I would grab a drink at Aurora (70 Grand Street) and then make my way back to Greenpoint for dinner. My girlfriend and I love Chez Ma Tante (90 Calyer Street) so whenever we want to do something nice, that’s one of our go-tos. That would be a calorie filled day but it would be worth it!
After the end of your term, what feasibly do you want to say you accomplished?
I hope to set an agenda for this term and determine my priorities in office in collaboration with the community. I am really keen to get feedback from and input from neighbors, now and always, on what they want me to be working on. My job is very fully to be the representative of the community. We put out a survey earlier this week that we hope neighbors will respond to about what their priority issues are and any additional context as they see fit, on what they’d like to see me work on. I’m gonna be regularly seeking input on whatever hot button issues are coming across my desk, and looking to the community to give their insights and share their expertise on how they’d like to see me handle local issues. In concert with Emily Gallagher and Julia Salazar and our neighboring council member Jen Gutierrez who shares North Brooklyn want to collectively identify priorities that we can work on together to ensure that we’re getting real results for the community. When all of us are rowing in the same direction and demanding action in conjunction with a mobilized neighborhood, we can be really effective.
When it comes to specific things that I want to see resolved, I’m firstly focused on the broken promises concerning the Williamsburg and Greenpoint rezoning. We were promised significant park space and a new school, investments that have not yet materialized, and I want to get those projects done – Bushwick Inlet Park, Box Street Park, a new elementary school are critical. On education, I want to help realize 3K, free universal full day, high quality education for every 3 year old in our neighborhood. I want to help ensure that we have desegregated our schools and have more equitable admissisions policies, and most of all, that we have excellent elementary, middle, and high school seats for each and every family, each and every student in our community.
On housing, we need to realize a new framework on development in our neighborhoods, where we’ve been experiencing lots of new luxury developments and aren’t getting the affordable housing that we so urgently need. I’m gonna push hard with developers who want to build in our community to generate significantly more affordable housing than what we’ve seen to date.
And on climate justice, I’m hoping to implement a comprehensive plan for how we drive down emissions in our neighborhood and try to make Greenpoint and the 33rd district as a whole a model in the fight against climate change. We can’t wait for some international agreement or Washington to magically solve this issue. We have no time to waste. So we need to take action locally and demonstrate how we can drive down our emissions from our buildings, our transportation, our waste. Through both legislation at city hall and organizing efforts locally, I want to make our community a model in the fight against climate change. If we can do it here and be successful in north Brooklyn, one of the communities that has suffered the most from environmental injustice, then we can do it anywhere.
I hope to help bring our community out of this pandemic into a full recovery where we are in a better place than where we started, where we can meet the needs of low income neighbors by addressing food insecurity and housing justice and local hiring initiatives that better address the challenges that low income members of our community have been struggling with long before this pandemic.