Restler and Olechowski Still Neck-And-Neck

September 26, 2012 Thomas Nocera
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The battle for Democratic district leader in the 50th Assembly District continues as current counts put challenger Chris Olechowski 31 votes ahead of one-term incumbent Lincoln Restler.

Previous counts first placed Restler 53 votes ahead and then, in a later count, 200 votes behind. However, the addition of absentee and emergency ballots has closed the gap to the current 31-vote difference. Additional votes and a scheduled recount will soon decide the fate of the seat.

This particular election has far more at stake than just the seat being competed over however. It has pitted the young, reform-minded Restler against Olechowski, the current chairperson of Community Board 1 who is backed by scandal-plagued former party boss and power broker Assemblymember Vito Lopez.

As Restler has incurred the ire of the former party boss, the outcome of this election could be a bellwether of the party’s future. The seat in question is not a government position and holds limited influence – and is also unpaid – but has the potential to affect the power structure of the county Democratic organization.

Restler has portrayed himself as an outspoken proponent of reform, speaking out against the old political order. A leading member of the New Kings Democrats, an organization within the larger party that is calling for reform, his history seems to reveal an agenda for change.

In 2010, Lincoln and other New Kings Democrats protested at a bi-annual meeting of the party. Earlier that year, Restler had defeated a Lopez-backed candidate for the position he now holds and is defending. Restler was also extremely vocal during Lopez’s sexual harassment scandal, calling on him to relinquish power and step down as chairperson of the party.

Lopez and other party regulars – including current Councilmember Stephen Levin, who was Lopez’s former chief of staff – have thrown heavy support behind Olechowski in his election bid.


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