Bedfellows! Rival pols Levin, Restler battle — together and apart — to move MTA bus depot

Bedfellows! Rival pols Levin, Restler battle — together and apart — to move MTA bus depot
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

Two young political rivals are working separately to move the MTA from a waterfront lot in Greenpoint that has been slated to become a park since 2005.

Councilman Steve Levin (D–Greenpoint) and Democratic District Leader Lincoln Restler — likely opponents in many upcoming elections — are pressuring the transit agency and the city to move a bus depot to another site and facilitate the construction of a new park.

The pols are going about it in very different ways — mirroring their different approaches to politics and policy.

On Tuesday morning, Restler staged a mock eviction at the site and posted an “eviction” notice on the property’s chain-link fence, just below the official “No trespassing” sign.

“The community of Greenpoint will not tolerate the MTA’s ongoing disregard for the urgent lack of park space in our neighborhood,” thundered Restler. “We demand that the MTA live up to its promise to vacate.”

Meanwhile, Levin has been working the back rooms, meeting with city officials and wrote a scathing letter to MTA Chairman Jay Walder pointedly reminding him of the authority’s promise to turn over the property six years ago, and questioning why several alternative sites in Brooklyn and Queens were continuously rejected.

“The commitment made by the city for open space at 65 Commercial was perhaps the most promising provision of the 2005 rezoning for the residents of northern Greenpoint,” said Levin. “It is my hope that all interested parties — the city, the MTA, local elected officials, and the community — can work together expeditiously to resolve any outstanding issues.”

Community leaders have harangued Bloomberg administration officials and the MTA for not getting the relocation out of first gear for several years.

But this uncoordinated, political tag-team approach appears to be working.

Greenpoint district leader Lincoln Restler wants to “evict” the MTA from a Commercial Street lot so locals can build a long-delayed waterfront park.
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

On Tuesday afternoon, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said that the authority still plans to vacate the site “as soon as appropriate replacement sites are available,” and two vacant, city-owned sites in Maspeth, Queens and Williamsburg are promising.

“We are pleased to be actively moving forward on two viable sites,” said Donovan. “We are optimistic that a replacement facility can be built there once environmental issues are resolved.”

Levin praised the move, noting he “expects to see significant progress in the near future.”

And Restler called the announcement “a potentially a big win for Greenpoint.”

Both budding pols attended the same college — Brown University, the quirky “black sheep” of the Ivy League — bonding during late-night study breaks at the campus library in 2003.

But the men pursued divergent paths in Brooklyn politics several years later, when Levin began working for Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Williamsburg), the county’s party leader, and Restler helped found an insurgent political club whose goal is to oust Lopez from power.

Each secured dramatic election victories — Levin emerging from a bloody seven-way primary in 2009, and Restler toppling a county-backed candidate by less than 150 votes last year— and both are seen as rising on the Democratic Party.

Or, more accurately, supernovas on an explosive collision course.

Councilman Steve Levin is taking an equally important behind-the-scenes role.
The Brooklyn Paper / Ben Muessig