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Newcomer Restler battles incumbent Cohn for obscure, minor, little-known post

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They couldn’t defeat Brooklyn Democratic Party Boss, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, and they couldn’t beat his hand-picked candidate for City Council, Steve Levin, so now a group of Democratic insurgents in Williamsburg is going after the next biggest (or, in this case, smallest) target — the neighborhood’s district leader, Steve Cohn.

Lincoln Restler, a leader of the New Kings Democrats, announced his candidacy for unpaid state committeeman spot on Tuesday, setting up a battle against the longtime incumbent and Downtown Brooklyn attorney for this little-known, and low-powered, elective office.

Already the sparks are flying!

“The party is dysfunctional and a relic of old machine politics,” said Restler. “We need energetic leaders to work hard for our community, who are committed to accountability to our democratic system.”

Cohn is well-liked and has a long track record of community involvement — and is best known for his annual fall breakfast at Junior’s that draws top elected officials from every strata of the political world with the possible exception of the White House.

But Cohn is tied to Lopez through the party office that he’s held for 27 years. And the Restler-Cohn smackdown comes amid a wave of similar challenges by insurgents all over the borough, featuring first-time political candidates trying to pick off entrenched party leaders.

A district leader oversees a vast array of party duties, from hiring poll workers and election inspectors on Election Day, to endorsing judges, filling vacancies when elected officials die, and voting for the party’s county leader.

Restler, 26, faces an uphill battle against Cohn, who will likely retain endorsements from Lopez, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Williamsburg), and Levin (D-Williamsburg), plus many community leaders. In fact, Restler witnessed Cohn’s popularity firsthand when they both attended Go Green Greenpoint!, an Earth Day festival in McCarren Park.

“People came over and thanked me for doing something for them,” said Cohn. “It was almost like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I’ve been doing community work for many years and hope to be doing community work for many more years.”

Yet Restler remains optimistic. He touted his club’s efforts two years ago to run 70 people for an even more obscure political office called county committee, and promises to bring the vitality of his organization to local elected office.

“If we want to ensure that capable, progressive hard working candidates are supported for the bench and for all levels of elected office, then we need to begin electing new district leaders,” said Restler.

Updated 12:05 am, May 5, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Tom from Greenpoint says:
Steve Cohn has a track record of getting stuff done for the community. I don't know if it's just how this story was written, but I don't know what Restler really wants to get done. All I see is "We don't like Vito Lopez, so we're going after this guy." That sounds like the most stupid, empty politics we've seen. Basically, Restler and his group sound like their only problem is that they don't have the power they accuse Lopez of abusing. That's not really very encouraging. Maybe they should get the rest of their message out. Change for the sake of change? No thanks.
May 4, 2010, 8:30 pm
Bob from Brooklyn Heights says:
Aaron,

Many progressive democrats will be supporting Cohn too. A question that you didn't ask is why the 50th? What relationship does he even have with that district?
May 4, 2010, 8:37 pm
Nick from Greenpoint says:
Steve Cohn has been part of the Brooklyn Democratic machine for 27 years, during which time two county chairs have been convicted. He's done well for himself on Court street at the same time as he's influencing which judges will be elected. Steve's a nice guy who will always cut a check to a worthy cause, but Brooklyn Democratic politics is crying out for reform, and Cohn's part of the problem, not part of the solution.
May 5, 2010, 10:21 am
bill from boerum hill says:
For a job that pays nothing and requires plenty of work
(when done right) the residents of the 50th(?) [article didn't say which] are very lucky indeed to have two such likable and effective candidates.

Restler has been highly effective on Community Board 2 where he is the official secretary. He gets along with almost everyone, not an easy job. And he gets lots done.
A difficult choice indeed.
May 6, 2010, 3:58 pm
neversurprised from greenpoint says:
how is it that a paper can just predict that an elected is supporting a candidate.. this paper is so presumptuous and arrogant that it is sickening..
May 9, 2010, 1:26 am
getalife from greenpoint says:
LINCOLN RESTLER & NICK RIZZO needs to get a life and stop acting like a spoiled A**.... YOU GUYS ARE BORED!
May 9, 2010, 1:28 am
ladyperson from greenpoint says:
Steve Cohn couldn't even win what was SUPPOSED to be his shoo-in victory for City Council in 2001, when David Yassky - an unknown in the 50th AD - cleaned his clock. The reason? Cohn was so arrogant and overconfident about the Brooklyn Machine's capacity to deliver the Council seat to him, he barely bothered to campaign in the 50th. The old-timers might know who he is (that is, those remaining few who haven't died or moved away), but if you don't go to the Seneca Club's annual lovefest at the Polonaise, you definitely haven't seen him around. Ever.

The community is likely to support someone who IS around, who's actively participating and in touch with local issues and raising awareness with political leadership. And Democratic party members should find that highly desirable. The average person on the street probably doesn't know who our district leaders are or what they do, but they might actually have HEARD of Lincoln Restler. With Cohn, the answer is much more likely to be "Steve who?"
May 15, 2010, 9:56 am

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