DIY Politics

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Have you ever wondered if Brooklyn’s political and cultural worlds are in sync? Whether there are young Brooklyn politicos out there, riding their bikes to a big speech? Thanks to a progressive Brooklyn political organization called the New Kings Democrats, that vision isn’t so far-fetched.

NKD founders Rachel Lauter and Matt Cowherd first met in church basement at a Brooklyn For Barack meeting. When the election was over, the pair started dating and founded the New Kings Democrats, looking to bring the same grassroots energy and momentum they felt from the Obama campaign to local Brooklyn politics.

Lincoln Restler and Kate Zidar (pictured above) have emerged as two of the NKD’s most prominent candidates for this fall’s election cycle (primary elections are Sept. 14). Zidar and Restler are running for the position of State Committeeman/District Leader in the 50th District, which includes Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. It’s their hope to topple the old guard, a power structure represented by party boss, Vito Lopez.

“I hope to reconnect District 50 Democrats with the party at large on the issues of environment, public health and affordability,” says Zidar. “People are talking about how much [development] there has been, how much there will be, the effect of it on issues like transportation and community services, and of course affordability. Anyone with a family living in District 50 is thinking of how and where there will be affordable homes for current and future generations.” Zidar, an environmentalist, also mentioned open space and parks as being top priorities for the Brooklynites she’s spoken to during the campaign. She is also well known around the neighborhood for her role as founder of the Brooklyn Compost Project, and is a professor at Pratt, teaching subjects like solid waste management, urban agriculture and storm water management.

Lincoln Restler, the 26-year-old vice president of the New Kings Democrats looks like a character from one of Wes Anderson’s films. His Elvis Costello-esque frames and dark curls give him and quirky charm. He’s lived in Brooklyn all of his life and when asked about the issues most important to Brooklyn locals, Restler echoes Zidar’s sentiment about parks, as well as the importance of affordability both for houses and basic services. Restler specifically cites the need for a “quality, affordable supermarket,” in Fort Greene, a part of which was recently identified as a food desert in an article in The Brooklyn Star.

Restler works as Program Officer for Asset-Building and Financial Services at the NYC Office of Financial Empowerment which helps young people in low income neighborhoods learn financial responsibility, and stave off predatory financial services like check cashers. He also serves as both chair of the Economic Development Committee and Secretary of Community Board 2, and is an active member of Brooklyn for Peace, a local war relief group. When asked about his unavoidably long hours, he replied, “Beers after work taste better after knocking doors and after talking to strangers in 90-degree heat for three hours.”

A peek into an NKD meeting.

With three of the past four Kings County Democratic Assembly leaders indicted on corruption charges, the NKD candidates have plenty to rail against. When asked what music they’ve been listening to during the campaign, both candidates replied Rage Against the Machine. Really.

“The moment is upon us to take ownership of our politics and abolish the political clubhouse once and for all,” says Restler of his opponent, Warren Cohn, the son of Steve Cohn who held the committeeman position for 27 years. The NKD sees Cohn’s candidacy as simply more of the same. Even with the endorsement of assembly leader Vito Lopez and a familial background in politics, Cohn has been out-fundraised by Restler three to one.

In addition to Restler and Zidar, the NKD has two other candidates, Esteban Duran and Barbara Medina, running for the District Leader position in the 53rd district. The NKD also has six judicial delegate candidates running in the 50th District, a position that will influence who becomes a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge. NKD members have been actively pushing their Vote Local campaign, getting transplanted Brooklynites who are still registered to vote in their home towns to register here instead. However, it’s Zidar and Restler’s race that has received the most attention, perhaps because of the political stalwarts they’re up against, or maybe it’s that Zidar and Restler, in appearance and action, seem to truly reflect a new Brooklyn.

Text by Jon Reiss, sent by Annaliese. Photos courtesy of the New Kings Democrats.

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