BK — the progressive way

CM Shahana Hanif has been named one of the co-chairs of the progressive caucus (Credit CM Hanif’s office).

By Matthew Fischetti

mfischetti@queensledger.com

 

New York City Councilman Lincoln Restler and Councilwoman Shahana Hanif aren’t cut from the same cloth.

Restler got his start with reform-oriented politics by co-founding the New Kings Democrats – a group that helps elected transparency-oriented leaders. Then he beat the Brooklyn machine in an unusually high profile race for District Leader before working for the De Blasio administration.

Hanif served as director for community engagement and organizing for then-Councilman Brad Lander’s office. But that’s exactly why they think they’ll be good co-chairs of the New York City council progressive caucus.

“I come from a more leftist, Democratic Socialist tenant organizing background, while also having navigated leading participatory budgeting and community engagement in my predecessor, Brad Lander’s office. And then he worked for the de Blasio administration. So we’ve got really two diverse track records, which I think really allows for a blossoming relationship and partnership,” Hanif said.

The New York City caucus was formed in 2009 and has gone through a few different iterations under the previous three different speakers and two mayors it has existed.

“It was a more contentious dynamic between the Progressive Caucus, Speaker Quinn, and Mayor Bloomberg. It was a much closer partnership with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is one of the co-founders and original co-chairs of the caucus. The caucus perhaps played a less behind-the-scenes role during the Corey Johnson era,” Restler said.

CM Lincoln Restler has been named as a co-chair of the progressive caucus.

Hanif echoed similar sentiments, describing the previous progressive caucus under Diane Ayala and Ben Kalos as “dim and dead” and that now was a great opportunity to resuscitate the caucus as an “accountability machine” to the mayor.

When the caucus was founded it only had 12 members but this year has over 30 In the most historically diverse class of legislators yet with a high number of progressive-minded legislators. The caucus features some high-profile names like Majority Whip Councilwoman Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, Finance Chair Justin Brannan and even Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

This caucus will be a “big tent progressive caucus,” as Restler described it, with a range of ideologies from more DSA styled members to center-left liberal reformers. Both chairs emphasized having robust dialogue and debate in order to ensure different versions of being progressive can be embodied in the work the caucus does going forward.

The progressive caucus is ready to flex its muscles under the more moderate Mayor Adams administration. Before he was even elected, Mayor Adams said that city council members who opposed solitary confinement had no desire to move the city forward but to simply be disruptive. After Mayor Adams released his preliminary budget, which includes a series of budget cuts, progressive members have attended rallies to fight against them.

Restler has emphasized that while challenging the Mayor on issues they disagree with is part of his responsibility as an independently elected representative that going to “nuclear war” with the mayor won’t help anybody. When Hanif was asked about some of the things she envisions being able to work on the Mayor with she paused.

“I guess that’s a tougher question for me,” Hanif said before laughing. “We haven’t necessarily articulated this in the caucus yet but, I think the mayor’s position on food justice in schools is something that I support and want to improve. But at this moment, with the preliminary budget out and seeing that nearly every single agency is seeing a reduction in funding, it is really tough to see where there’s alignment right now.”

Later in her interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star, Hanif qualified her statement by saying she wants room for debate and dialogue with the Mayor, as she wants for internal disagreements within the caucus, but still said the mayor’s policy decisions so far will make that a harder possibility.

In order to really build power and be a true accountability machine against the mayor, Hanif said just having a high membership rate won’t cut it.

“Something that the leadership has been in active conversation around in whether we see value in having quantity or do we see value in really ushering in a caucus that is very deliberate about some working groups that we’ve identified? We really want participation, we want this to be an effective caucus,” Hanif said.

Hanif said that the working groups – covering topics like the budget, communication, policy and bylaws – are a measure to ensure that members are there in just name only but are actively helping the caucus.

Restler will be leading the principles of statement and bylaws group, Hanif is running the communication group, vice-chair Carmen De La Rosa will be in charge of the policy group, and the other vice-chair Jennifer Gutiérrez will be taking the helm on the budget.

Hanif and Restler also said they would consider booting members from the caucus if they don’t participate enough.

Hanif also emphasized that it will take an inside-outside strategy working with unions, outside groups like the Working Families Party and DSA, as well as community activists and organizers to build an adequate coalition that can secure wins.

The legislative agenda has yet to be finalized as the first meeting of the progressive caucus won’t be until April 1. In talks with members, Restler said that treating housing and healthcare as a human right is near the top of priorities for the caucus and that they hope to create “a budget agenda that advances our goals of housing justice, environmental justice, and racial justice.”

Hanif said that the top issues she heard from members surround creating a just budget and divesting money from the police budget.

“My hope is that we can lean into areas of common ground with the speaker and the mayor to successfully advance a robust agenda that delivers for New Yorkers,” Restler said. “We’re independently elected council members and it’s our collective prerogative to represent the values of our districts and we are going to craft an agenda that that does just that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restler looks to hit the ground running

Lincoln Restler is one of the newly elected NYC council members. Can he pull off his progressive agenda in an Adams administration?

By Matthew Fischetti

mfischetti@queensledger.com

 

Lincoln Restler has big dreams for North Brooklyn. 

The freshman councilman for the 33rd District won a crowded Democratic Primary on an ambitious agenda of making the district the first to be carbon neutral in the city, reallocating part of the NYPD budget to create a new public safety agency of social workers and mental health care providers, and preventing the overdevelopment of the Brooklyn waterfront. 

But can he pull it off? 

The 37-year-old councilman may be a freshman in the City Council, but he is far from new to New York City politics. 

Restler first got involved in politics during the 2008 primary for Barack Obama. Inspired by the success of Obama, Restler looked to make the movement more than a moment but a real coalition. 

He helped found, and served for one year as vice president, of the New Kings Democrats, a progressive reform-minded organization that has challenged the Brooklyn Democratic machine. 

At only 26 years old, Restler won his first election in 2010 as a district leader in a successful rebuke against disgraced Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Vito Lopez’s preferred candidate, Warren Cohn. 

Even though district leaders are unpaid positions with very limited powers, Restler’s upset generated buzzy media coverage. 

After nearly 12 years, a few stints in city government and working for former Mayor Bill de Blasio, Restler still sees himself as the same outsider trying to reform New York City politics. 

Restler may have his work cut out for him under Mayor Eric Adams, a fellow native son of Brooklyn but also a product of the old school machine politics Restler has fought against. 

“I’m committed to pushing for ethical government, for our city to be as ethical as it can possibly be,” Restler said in a recent interview. “And my experience challenging the Brooklyn machine molded me to feel like you have to speak truth to power, you have to call out corruption directly to affect change, and you never have a hard time sleeping when you do the right thing.” 

More recently, Adams has made waves for two controversial appointments: Philip Banks, a former NYPD Chief and un-indicted co-conspirator in a federal police corruption case, as Deputy Mayor of Public Safety, and appointing his younger brother, Bernard Adams, as Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD. 

 

When asked about the appointments, Restler chose his words carefully. 

“I’m concerned any time a family member is appointed to a senior position or a position of power,” said Restler. “I look forward to understanding how they plan to structure the appointment of the mayor’s brother. I’m concerned about the appointment.” 

In regards to Banks’ appointment, Restler said “there are a series of open questions that still need to be answered regarding the investigations relating to Mr. Banks.” 

While Restler’s progressive bonafides and ambitious agenda may be in contrast with the person now sitting in Gracie Mansion, Restler sees opportunities to work with the Mayor to deliver for the residents of North Brooklyn. 

“My goal is to work with the mayor and his team, to work with the speaker and her team, to work with my colleagues in the council to get sh*t done and solve problems and make sure that the most pressing issues in our community are being addressed,” he said. “But I was elected by the people of the 33rd Council District, and it’s my job to faithfully represent their values and their priorities. 

“Sometimes that’s going to be in agreement with the mayor, sometimes that’s going to be a disagreement with the Mayor,” he added. “And that’s okay. We can disagree without getting into a nuclear war. I’m not going to shy away from my beliefs.” 

Specifically, Restler referenced Adams intent to reinstate solitary confinement as his public statements about how council members have no right to question the 22-year veteran of the NYPD. 

“Solitary confinement is torture, and we cannot allow it in New York City jails,” Restler said. “No matter what the mayor’s perspective on that is, I’m going to rally my colleagues in the council to push that legislation forward with a veto-proof majority.” 

Restler said the three biggest problems he wants to address are tackling the affordability crisis in his district, protecting the Brooklyn waterfront from the effects of climate change, and “making our community safer through intelligent, compassionate policies that don’t rely on the police to solve every problem.” 

Even though Restler has just been a Councilman for a little over a week, he has been busy on those issues. 

On December 27, the city announced $75 million for Bushwick Inlet Park, a project Restler has been working with local officials behind the scenes months before his inauguration. 

After a recent anti-Semitic assault in Bay Ridge, Restler canvassed Brooklyn neighborhoods with Councilman Chi Ossé, providing information on how to defuse and 

intervene in hate crimes as a bystander. 

Restler told the Star the first bill he is going to introduce will be repealing Option C of the 421(A) Program, a tax break that developers can qualify for providing affordably housing in new projects. 

Under Option C, affordable housing is defined at up to 130 percent of the average median income for the area. 

“The 421(A) program allows for developers in New York City to get massive tax breaks for building, quote unquote, affordable housing for a single adult making $108,000 a year,” Restler said. “Why are we possibly subsidizing, quote unquote, affordable housing for single adults earning triple digits? It doesn’t make sense.” 

When asked how he would define success when his first term is up, Restler said it would be “if neighbors in our district have more confidence that government can help them solve real problems.” 

“About 15 years ago, there were two massive rezonings in the 33rd Council District, on the waterfront and in downtown Brooklyn, and they have led to massive new developments,” Reslter said. “They have contributed to significant displacement of longtime residents and amounted to a set of broken promises.

“Fifteen years later, I am angry about the promised park spaces, the promised schools, the investments that were supposed to come to accommodate a growing community,” he added. “And I am laser focused on making sure that those broken promises get remedied and that we hold the city accountable.”

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