It’s primary day in New York City! That means if you go to any polling site in the five boroughs, you’re going to see bored workers and low turnout. That is, unless you are in Hasidic Williamsburg, where voters are turning out in throngs to decide who will represent them in an unpaid position in the Kings County Democratic Party. In that race, District Leader Lincoln Restler, a staunch critic of Brooklyn’s scandal-tarred Democratic boss Vito Lopez, is trying to win re-election as the establishment moves to try and squash his political career in a battle Mr. Restler has dubbed “Vito’s last stand.”
We visited a heavily Hasidic polling site off Heyward Street, where indeed, long lines of Orthodox Jewish voters filled a school gymnasium, the atmosphere buzzing with activity. A couple dozen yards outside the entrance, signs in Yiddish urged locals to vote for Mr. Restler or his opponent, community board chairman Chris Olechowski, and young volunteers for Mr. Olechowski sat in a booth, routinely shouting, “Vote!”
Despite Mr. Lopez’s woes stemming from serious sexual harassment claims, found credible by the State Assembly, members of the the local Jewish community argue the election is a way to demonstrate their electoral strength for the 2013 elections, where New York City will be electing its next mayor and other top government positions.
It’s Election Day in New York next Thursday! But instead of a titanic battle between ideologies–your Mitt Romneys vs. Barack Obamas, if you will–the options on the ballot will be little-noticed state legislative contests between candidates of the same party, often with few policy differences.
Earlier this week, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a likely candidate for mayor next year, waded all the way down into a district leader’s race to endorse Lincoln Restler for reelection. Well, add another fellow contender for Gracie Mansion to the Restler column as Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer figuratively went across the East River to do the same this afternoon. Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Stringer don’t necessarily endorse in competitive races for more notable elected positions, so the fact that Mr. Restler continues to garner high-level support for his unpaid, little-known position is testament to his ability to raise the district leader post to a bizarrely high level.
“Lincoln is a tireless advocate for his community with a record of delivering real results,” Mr. Stringer said in a statement. “From fighting for more green space and better public schools, to expanding transportation options, Lincoln is a proven leader on the issues Brooklynites care about. Lincoln is the right choice for reform minded voters and I am proud to endorse his re-election.”
District Leader Lincoln Restler, who’s still locked in a tight, high-profile race against the Brooklyn Democratic establishment despite the implosion of county boss Vito Lopez, is seizing upon a New York Post report that Mr. Lopez’s last aim as county leader is eliminating him on September 13th.
“Dear Friends and Neighbors, Even in the midst of a shameful and potentially criminal sexual harassment scandal, disgraced Boss Vito Lopez is desperately clinging to power for one reason: to halt our campaign to reform the Brooklyn Democratic Party. Vito seems to be obsessed with defeating us,” he wrote in an email to his supporters, entitled “Vito’s Last Stand.”
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a rising star in the Democratic Party after winning his June 26th congressional primary, has notably straddled the line between the notoriously factious sides of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party. On one side, there is the county’s Democratic leader Vito Lopez, and on the other, self-styled reformers who strongly oppose his leadership. And earlier this afternoon, Mr. Jeffries offered his endorsement to one of the biggest thorns in Mr. Lopez’s side, District Leader Lincoln Restler, who’s locked in a tough battle for reelection in a district he won only by a handful of votes in 2010.
“Over the last two years, Lincoln has demonstrated remarkable drive, energy and creativity in helping to improve the quality of life of people throughout the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill communities,” he said in a statement. “We have worked closely together on behalf of public housing residents and he has demonstrated the significant impact a talented, progressive and engaged elected official can have in Brooklyn. I am proud to endorse him for re-election.”
District Leader Lincoln Restler, set to have one of the most high profile reelection campaigns in the city this September, has raised an impressive $55,000 for his campaign in the first six months of the year. This is despite the fact that the race’s victor will hold one of the lowest profile elected positions available: an unpaid seat in the Kings County and state Democratic parties.
The total places him on a path to potentially double the relatively astronomical $60,000 he raised for his 2010 campaign, which he won by a mere 121 votes. Unlike those for legislative elected offices, district leader races often attract no money, but Mr. Restler has gained stature through continuously sprinting from one event to the next, as well as his public opposition to Brooklyn’s Democratic leader Vito Lopez.
“Look, this election is a whole lot bigger than just one person, especially a little guy like me who needs to stand on this chair,” 28-year-old Lincoln Restler declared as he artificially towered over a packed room at the Brooklyn Winery in Williamsburg a couple of weeks ago. “The machine has their candidate, they’re going to pour all of the resources they’ve got into this district leader race. But, for every hack elected official that they’ve got on payroll, we’re going to have to reach out to 10 of our neighbors.”
The “machine” in this case is the Kings County Democratic Party and its chair, Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Mr. Restler sees his re-election campaign as a critical aspect of the effort to topple what he describes as the corrupt status quo in Mr. Lopez’s organization.
Mr. Restler, who has the honor of holding the obscure position of district leader, is very aware of the fact that despite the lofty rhetoric of his campaign, he’s talking about an unpaid office with few official responsibilities.
“Any elected office, even an elected position you’ve probably never heard of, is a platform to advocate for one’s community,” Mr. Restler said in his speech, still standing on the chair. The crowd rightfully laughed after “you’ve probably never heard of.”