tl;dr version at the bottom.
Thursday, 9/13 is the state and local primary here in New York. A lot of people I’ve seen or talked to, especially in post-OWS New York, think voting and elections (national elections, nevermind the local primary that no one ever votes in) are essentially meaningless, but I wanted to give you a few reasons why that’s not true, and why its important to go out and vote this Thursday.
Democratic politics work differently here in New York City. Election efforts revolve around the primaries, around picking among Democratic candidates, since competitive races with Republicans are rare. This also means that once you’re in office, it’s easy to get comfortable. That’s because many “elected” Democrats are essentially chosen by their predecessor in that office (their uncle, dad, or other person connected to their family). They only need to wait to get elected by the large voting blocs that have promised support to their family for decades and decades. Just look at the list of names of elected officials in your area of Brooklyn, and look at who held those positions before. It starts to look like a family reunion more than a political process.
You can imagine what kind of freedom that gives to an elected official here in Brooklyn. It’s the freedom to do nothing at all, or worse, as in the case of the party’s current boss, Vito Lopez, the freedom to screw up badly. Lopez has used government grant money to solidify his position in Brooklyn as far back as 1993. And this year he’s facing charges that he sexually harassed his staff members (and then paid them). Even so, he’ll probably get re-elected, or someone that Lopez hand-picked for the job will take over the Brooklyn machine.
Anyway, that’s the depressing stuff about local politics. Have I made you want to vote even less? Sorry about that. Here’s the good stuff: A couple years ago I met Lincoln Restler and the New Kings Democrats. He and this political group formed out of frustration with their own party — the corruption, the cronyism, their dismissive attitude towards anyone under 40. Two years ago Lincoln ran for and won state committee for the 50th Assembly district — that’s North Brooklyn. It’s an unpaid position he took on in addition to his full-time job. It doesn’t sound like much, but he’s advocated and organized some things I like here: Extended G train service. More greenspaces in Brooklyn. A new farmer’s market in McGolrick Park and a supermarket in another, underserved part of Brooklyn.
Okay, so now a personal I’ll-vouch-for-this-dude story. On Saturday the New Kings Democrats asked me to accompany Lincoln to a mural dedication at PS 84. I thought I was going to be dropping off absentee ballots for people who wanted them, so I had arrived in jeans and with unwashed hair and it had been raining, so when I heard about this change I was pretty pissed and really wanted to watch the Intervention marathon.
Then Lincoln ran in from the rain (he had been at the McCarren Farmers Market talking to people), and immediately started doing voter calls, politely explaining who he was and why people should vote. Then we both jumped in a cab toward the event. The cab ride took forever on the BQE and I, for the first time since I met him two years ago, got some time to talk to Lincoln. My main question was: Who does something like this? And why? He talked about everything from their vote local campaign, to trying to register voters who have just finished parole and have been mistakenly told that they can’t ever vote again to navigating neighborhoods with different goals and needs (think about it, Brooklyn’s got Hassidic communities, Puerto Rican families, Polish families, and gentrifiers all within blocks of each other), to green spaces, parks, bike safety and new lanes.
I only went to the mural unveiling with him (which was awesome to see and learn about). Lincoln stuck around to talk to voters (sometimes in Spanish) and then he dropped me off before he went on the rest of his Saturday: Two block parties, maybe another market, more phone calls and door knocking. I asked him about this, too. But he said he just likes talking to people. That is insane to me. I mean, have you tried talking to people in New York? Even though this guy is clearly exhausted, he was interested in what I said, and in what other people said to him.
Okay so finally, why should you vote if you are in Brooklyn and hate politics and are wary of the kind of person who drives to multiple farmers markets in one day to shake hands, etc. 1. It’s time to clean up local politics, for good. Lopez needs to leave. Think of the example it sets, when bastion of liberalism Brooklyn has leaders who are putting their hands all over ladies’ thighs without their permission. 2. Lincoln is a good guy. He walks around the neighborhood, listens, and then advocates on behalf of those people. Is it that easy? Uh, yeah, it is. Some day he will probably run for some other job and will vote on laws and it will get much more complex, but right now he listens and understands the mess that is north Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Democratic party. 3. You don’t vote? You don’t get represented. Don’t give me that crap about how like, voting would be illegal if it changed anything, because people are constantly trying to take away your right to vote. Here, there, everywhere. 4. Let’s face it: You and I are not going to do this. We care about our neighborhood and community and complain on Facebook and Twitter but you and I don’t have the time, energy, or weird genetic mutation that compels us to put in the time and work. Vote for someone who does.
This turned into a really long thing. I didn’t mean for it to, but this is complicated and I’m just kind of learning. If you have questions or problems, don’t ask me. Go ask Lincoln. He’s always at train stations or farmers markets and he likes talking to people.
Anyway, here’s the tl;dr:
Brooklynites vote in your local primary this Thursday 9/13 to get Vito Lopez (a probable lady-groper and definite weird old-school party boss) out (or to send the message that he and his buddies are no longer welcome), and to keep Lincoln Restler (a smart Brooklyn advocate) in. Check your registration. Put it on your calendar. There’s no more new episodes of Louie and Hoarders moved to Mondays, so you and I are good.
Quick story: I was collecting signatures one night and was exhausted and talking to a Brooklyn guy who asked about Lincoln Restler and I said “You can’t miss him at the G train, he looks like a young Al Sharpton.” I meant Al Franken. Or did I?