Having earned an impressive 63.9 percent of the electorate (16,537 votes to be exact) after ranked choice voting, Lincoln Restler is poised to be the next Councilman representing District 33 in North Brooklyn. Since he is running unopposed in the Fall, our paper recently caught up with Restler to discuss his political history and his goals for Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, and the other neighborhoods he will represent.
Born and raised in Brooklyn Heights, Restler got his start in politics as a founding member of the New Kings Democrats and as a volunteer for the Obama campaign. Over a decade later, he is proud to see how much the progressive movement has grown in Brooklyn from its humble beginnings.
“When we founded the New Kings Democrats almost the entire political establishment was in opposition to us,” Restler explained. “Every elected official, every political club, and every political union was lined up with Hilary Clinton, but we realized that despite having none of that institutional support, we were able to garner over 49% of the vote in Brooklyn for Barack Obama.”
He continued: “That was because of the dynamism of his [Obama’s] campaign, but also the hard work we put in at subway stops, knocking on doors, and calling voters. It inspired many of us to look locally at how we could make a difference across the borough that we live in. We had no idea of the depth and breadth of corruption across our local political landscape.”
After finding early allies (including Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez), Restler and the New Kings Democrats went on to help elect reform-oriented progressives in a number of City Council Districts throughout the borough. However, now that Restler is entering the Council himself, he is less focused on political labels and more focused on addressing issues in his North Brooklyn district and throughout the City.
One such issue is gentrification, another trend that has taken Brooklyn by storm in the decade since Restler’s political beginnings.
“We have seen more new development in our district than any other in the city of New York since 2010. It’s not even close,” Restler explained. “Too many of my neighbors are struggling to get by today. And the few affordable apartments that have been built aren’t affordable. I’ve never met anyone that finds a $2,350 studio apartment affordable.”
Restler points to the 2004 and 2005 rezonings of Downtown Brooklyn and Greenpoint and Williamsburg respectively as the root causes of this affordability issue. However, he does not label himself as an anti-development candidate. Instead, he is focused on using his Council seat and political power to reform certain aspects of the City’s land-use policy.
He specifically highlighted the State’s 421a program that incites development with tax breaks. Although it is a state program, the City Council can repeal certain options within the program that allow developers to sell ‘affordable housing’ at 130% percent of the area median income, a step that Restler hopes to take in his first days on the Council.
Restler also spoke at length about holding the City accountable to completing the parks and schools that were promised to North Brooklyn during the 2004 and 2005 rezonings, including the yet to be finished Bushwick Inlet Park.
Restler advocates for a more comprehensive approach to community feedback to address hyper local issues, including the pushback against open streets and outdoor dining by some residents in Greenpoint. He also discussed the need for a community-led approach to street safety and vision zero policies, especially following the tragic hit-and-run death of beloved local teacher Matthew Jensen on McGuinness Boulevard this past May.
“My goal as a legislator is to be in constant communication with my community, getting regular input, feedback, and new ideas about what we can do to make our neighborhood and our City even better,” Restler said. “That’s why I’m hoping to organize regular active town halls and be an accessible 24/7 Councilmember that people know can reach out to for help with local problems but also be a partner to help implement bold ideas to make our neighborhoods more affordable, more sustainable, more livable, and more dynamic.”
The incoming City Council class includes many progressives (including other incoming Brooklyn representatives Jennifer Gutierrez and Shahana Hanif), and Restler is confident that they will be able to pass many measures furthering their progressive agenda. He is also longtime friends with incoming Brooklyn Borough President and former Bushwick City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso.
Additionally, Restler has previously worked with Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for Mayor, during his time as a State Senator and the Brooklyn Borough President. Although Adams is viewed as more of a moderate, Restler is hopeful that the most-likely next Mayor will be open to working together towards progressive ideas.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to find a lot of common ground on a variety of different issues,” Restler said. “I ran on a stridently progressive platform and committed to representing those values and the values of the residents of the 33rd City Council district. Sometimes that will be in agreement with the mayor and sometimes it won’t.”