Cool running: Bearded, tattooed bartender vies to run W’burg politics

Cool running: Bearded, tattooed bartender vies to run W’burg politics
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

This hipster wants to be your representative.

Nick Rizzo, an unemployed bartender who lists among his assets as his beard, tattoo, bike commuting, and hand-rolled cigarette smoking, is running for male Democratic district leader of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, an unpaid and esoteric position that nevertheless wields influence within the party machine.

Incidentally, Rizzo says he wants to dismantle that machine. Rooting out the kind of clubby Brooklyn politics once led by disgraced former borough Democratic boss Vito Lopez is a main tenet of Rizzo’s platform along with being pro-marijuana legalization, pro-choice, and pro-tipping food delivery workers. Rizzo also cites his history as a lifelong politics junkie who at 16 drew up a plan for redistricting his hometown of Berkeley, Calif. as evidence that he has the chops to lead the district. He is counting on increased turnout from secular neighborhood transplants to help him beat out opponent Michael Brienza in the area where he says a majority of active voters are Satmar Hasidic Jews.

We checked in with Rizzo to see what makes him tick — and why he is still smoking post-Bloomberg.

Danielle Furfaro: What made you decide to run for district leader?

Nick Rizzo: It is about getting more people involved in politics around here. So much of what is wrong with New York politics can be explained by the fact that almost everything is decided in low turnout Democratic primaries. If there were twice as much participation, things would be really different.

DF: How will you get more people involved?

NR: It is about bringing back a grassroots energy to the party. I want to use this position as a community organizing tool. My campaign has already identified tons of potholes and reported them to 311. And we badgered the city’s Economic Development Corporation to make sure the [Greenpoint ferry pier that collapsed in February] was up and running in time [for the severing of G train service to Queens.]

It is about taking the power and projecting it outwards. It is important to report back on what I have seen and heard. I am going to keep knocking on doors after I am elected so I can keep finding out what the issues are.

DF: What else are you working on?

NR: I am on a mission to get [the online delivery service] Seamless to raise its lowest default tip amount to 15 percent. It would not cost any money and it would have the effect of putting millions of dollars into the hands of delivery drivers without governmental power. It is about being creative.

DF: What is your election strategy?

NR: I have five field organizers. They go out to different parts of the district and to subway stops in the morning. I am relying on our supporters to give us lists of people who we can approach.

DF: In this district, the Hasidic votes tend to decide many races. How are you planning to get their vote?

NR: It is really fascinating. There are a bunch of different parts of the district, and the Satmar are the ones that make the district special and unique. It is much more like diplomacy than dealing with local politics. They are not going to listen to me if I knock on their doors. They do not speak my language, they do not watch television, and they do not read the same newspapers I do.

You have to go through various political leaders and deal with them. I have shown all sides that I respect them. Also, I am Jewish, despite my surname, because my mother is Jewish. I figured that because I am not Orthodox it would not matter, but it does. It should not, but it does.

DF: What do you do when you are not campaigning?

NR: Well, the campaign has taken over my life to a scary degree. My other job is a bartender. I am between bartending gigs right now. I am actually going for an interview today.

I love my bar trivia, I am an Oakland As fan, and I love riding my bike. I have a blue Giant hybrid. It does not have cool hipster handles, and it is not a fixie.

DF: I heard you roll your own cigarettes. What kind do you smoke?

NR: I smoke Peter Stokkebye rolling tobacco, which is a Danish blend. I am a sucker for anything that says “Danish” on it. I think it’s cool. Copenhagen seems to be a lot like Brooklyn, but without the minorities, which is unfortunate.

DF: Do you not know that those things will kill you?

NR: I will be quitting by 32. I used to say I would quit by 30, but I am worried I will be so stressed out by turning 30 next year that I will appreciate the extra two years of smoking.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.