By Matthew Fischetti
After years in working in local reformer politics, as an aide for Mayor DeBlasio and stints at local non-profits, Lincoln Restler was ready to take on City Hall.
The politically adept council member represents the 33rd district which stretches waterfront Brooklyn nabes like Greenpoint down to Brooklyn Heights. In his first year of office, he has introduced over a dozen pieces of legislation – ranging in wide scale reforms like the city giving first preference to non-profit developers when selling land to planting over 3,000 trees in the district.. He has released a climate action roadmap, which combines legislative priorities with organizing strategies to try and make the district the first carbon-neutral in the county.
Our paper decided to catch up with the councilmember to reflect about the challenges and successes in his first year of office.
“I’m really proud of the work that we’ve been able to do. I love this job, I thought I would love it. But until you’re actually in it, doing it every day didn’t realize just how much I would enjoy it,” Restler said in a recent interview.
Restler described his legislative philosophy as being driven largely by constituent services complaints. After being inundated with complaints about helicopter noise and placard abuse – he introduced legislation to ban non-essential helicopter use and banning placard abuse.
“The three key prongs of the office are having a really rigorous and robust constituent services operation to solve every problem. You develop proactive organizing plans across our district to address issues at the neighborhood level and then sponsor and pass transformative legislation that addresses the inequities in our city,” said Restler.
While Restler has introduced many pieces of legislation, most of them are still sitting in committee, even while having co-sponsors from a majority of the council.
“2022 was a year for a whole new city government in New York, not just to the mayor setting up this whole administration, but a new speaker and 80 percent of the council are freshmen members,” Restler said.”And so it’s taken us a little bit of time to develop our priorities and consensus in this legislative council, under Speaker Adams, but I think we’re really starting to hit a groove and the passing rate packages built in the summer and fall.”
Back in March, Restler was appointed as co-chair of the Progressive Caucus with Shahana Hanif. The caucus, which represent a majority of the council, unveiled their formal agenda, a cadre of 20 bills that had been introduced throughout the year – including legislation relating to banning solitary confinement, abolishing the gang database and establishing a public bank.
“we’re making steady progress in driving those pieces of legislation forward. You know, as the largest caucus in the council, when we’re organized, we are in a very strong position to see our priorities enacted. The speaker, I think, listens to and cares about what her members want. And when we’re organized as a caucus, we can come forward as a large compelling, you know, influential block of votes to say, these are our priorities,” Restler said.
“The reality is that Eric Adams is committed to austerity, politics and austerity budgeting. City government has been hollowed out as it is, and it is severely hurting our city agency’s ability to generate affordable housing, to connect New Yorkers to public assistance and food stamps,” he added.
When pushed about voting for the original budget, Restler expressed regret.
“I think there was a lot of misinformation and misleading information. I think there was a lot of deliberately misleading information provided by the administration and in advance of the last budget that hid the severity of the cuts that they were imposing on our neighborhood school,” he said. The councilman emphasized that although he has allocated funding out of his discretionary budget and testified in oversight hearings, that “I should have known better, and I should have pushed harder. And I regret voting in favor of a budget that cut funding from our schools.”
Restler took the opportunity to critique the Mayor’s November Plan – a budget update which included cuts to libraries and other services.
“We were sorely disappointed with the November plan that the mayor released imposing nearly an additional billion dollars in cuts to the universal 3k program cuts across our city agencies. It’s clear where his priorities lie. His commitment to austerity budgets is unacceptable. And we as a council, we must fight back to stop.”
In the following months, Restler said that he was looking forward to introducing more legislation: specifically relating to rooftop solar, battery storage and improving conditions of homeless shelters.