Donziger celebrates freedom in Williamsburg

By Matthew Fischetti

mfischetti@queensledger.com

Steve Donziger is doing all right.

After 993 days under detention, Steve Donziger can celebrate freedom. Donziger, an environmental lawyer, was part of the team that won a multi-billion dollar settlement against Chevron for polluting millions of gallons of contaminants into the Amazon over decades. Later, Chevron lawyers claimed that Donzigers team tried to solicit a bribe in the case; the judge who made the original accusation later admitted in court that it was a lie and that he had been prepped over 50 times by Chevron lawyers, as Vice has reported.

A group of U.S. Representatives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have called on President Biden to pardon Donziger.

The first-day Donziger was able to unstrap his ankle monitoring unit, he was welcomed by dozens of his Upper West Side neighbors at a block party. 

“It was complete exhilaration. Made me a little sad, thinking of the lost opportunity I’ve had with my wife and son over the last three years. But it was really really awesome to know we stood up to what they threw at us when we came out the other side intact, happy and stronger” Donziger said in an interview about the moment he first experienced a slice of liberty and walked outside his apartment. 

But on Thursday Night, Donziger took his newfound freedom to Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg. Advertised as a “Donziger Release Party”, the event first hosted a panel discussion between Donziger and Amazon Labor Union founder Chris Smalls and was moderated by socialist podcast host Will Menaker of Chapo Trap House before musical performances. Tickets to the event supported the Donziger Legal Defense fund.

“[Donziger is] battling the real Amazon, I’m battling the retail Amazon. So there’s always a commonality with that – just beating up on billionaires and their lawyers,” Smalls, the fired Amazon worker who beat the odds to form the first independent Amazon Labor union in Staten Island, said in an interview. Both Amazon and Chevron have retained the law practices of Gibson Dunn to fight against Donziger and Smalls.

“I would say it’s important to know about because I think primarily because it’s not really being talked about in the corporate media very much,” Olivia Riggio, 25, a critic with progressive media watchdog FAIR who attended the party said. FAIR has released numerous reports highlighting much of the mainstream media’s lack of coverage concerning the case.  “I think it says a lot about corporate influencing corporate greed. And I think it’s important because it kind of is it sits at the intersection of corporate greed, of environmental rights, of human rights, of indigenous rights.”

The moderator of the panel, Will Menaker, said that the discussion was important to have at a moment when politics seemed stagnant and the future seems doomed.

“I don’t know about you guys, but the last two, three years now, it’s felt pretty f*cking grim out there,” Menaker said to kick off the panel. “It’s my pleasure to be on stage tonight with two men who have caused more stress and billable hours for America’s top corporate law firms.”

In an interview, Menaker said that both Donziger and Smalls’s stories were important as they are people taking up the seemingly unwinnable fights against the “worst people in the world” – and securing victories.

“It’s because I think, we as a society, have quite rationally given up on the future. Because it’s been decided for us. We have no voice or agency, in our political process, and even our culture; just like the dignity in our day-to-day lives to varying degrees. And I think the solution to that is embodied by these two guys, because they’re two individuals but they couldn’t have done it without a movement supporting them,” Menaker said. “I think that is what I take inspiration from. That’s what I was happy to try to highlight.”

Donziger said that one of the first Brooklyn spots he was going to hit would be Vinegar Hill in DUMBO. He still plans on fighting to get his law license back.But, for now, he’s just enjoying his freedom and the first beer he’s had in a bar for years.

“I’m giving myself away like I’m some fancy guy. I love good food.”

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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