OP/ED PHIL ON FIRE
By Phil DePaolo
In what had to be one of the most bizarre races in recent memory, Chris Olechowski defeated Lincoln Restler in their contentious race for the 50th Assembly District Leader post. The day after election day, it seemed Chris Olechowski had won by 136 votes. But as the Board of Elections counted hundreds of absentee and affidavit ballots in the following week, word came out that Olechowski’s lead was down to 50 votes. Then on September 22nd, I received this message from Lincoln Restler: “After every last valid ballot has been counted, we have won by 53 votes! Against all odds, we have pulled this thing off!”
So it seemed that the verdict was in and Lincoln was the winner as he had been two years earlier. You might recall in the 2010 race Restler was behind by 97 votes in his first race for democratic district leader, but then won by a 120 vote margin in a recount. But this year, things would be more bizarre. A few days later, I received this announcement from Restler: “The canvassing of voting machines was completed and emergency, affidavit, and absentee ballots were all fully accounted for. Board of Elections staff and our election lawyers confirmed the result: every valid ballot had been counted and we had overcome a 136 vote margin on election night to be ahead by 53 votes in the final result.
“Then we received a phone call from technological consultants to the Board of Elections informing us that their assessment had changed. Two memory sticks from the same scanning machine had yielded different results. We spent the weekend assessing how two data drives from the same machine could possibly provide different numbers, but we now believe we are facing a deficit of 31 votes.”
So now it seemed that Restler was losing after winning after losing. So due to the race being so close a recount was put in place. The city’s Board of Elections announced on Tuesday, October 16th that Lincoln Restler, had indeed lost by 19 votes to Chris Olechowski. The final tally was 6,037 votes for Chris Olechowski, chairman of Community Board 1 Brooklyn, and 6,018, for Lincoln Restler a margin of 0.16 percent. So 33 days after the elections it was finally over. I was very troubled how the city’s Board of Elections could so badly botch a total of 12,055 votes, putting both candidates through the emotional ringer. I was also saddened by the apathy in Greenpoint and Northside Williamsburg with extremely low voter turnout as this chart shows.
The New York Times noted on October 17th that, “Mr. Olechowski’s victory appeared due at least in part to support in the district’s Hasidic precincts. Turnout among Satmar Hasidim loyal to Mr. Vito Lopez was enormous on Election Day.” The Daily News also reported on September 20th that,”Rabbi David Niederman was calling supporters touting his ability to convince thousands of Satmars from the Zalmanite faction to pull the lever for Olechowski.”
“He’s letting everyone know he still has it,” a political pundit said at the time. Now I feel it is not fair to take issue with the Satmars, since they are doing what every citizen should do on election day and that’s vote! In a district with over 130,000 residents if the turnout was as high in Northside Williamsburg and Greenpoint as it was in Southside Williamsburg it would show a better reflection of who the entire community wanted as its Democratic District Leader. The Satmars are just doing what every resident has the same right to do and that’s vote! Also remember electeds will always remember who butters the political bread they need to win elections.
So anyone who claims that the Satmars gave this election to Olechowski is not really seeing the whole picture. The apathy has to end. And it is not just in this election. This neighborhood has been increasing in population yet turnout has not increased for the last presidential and mayoral elections. So when the City and State do not provide the services this community needs, look no further that the ballot box. This really has to change. And I feel badly because Greenpoint and Williamsburg have some of the most civic-minded people anywhere and they try so hard to make things better for everyone. Yet there is never any butter for the apathetic communities in the eyes of Mayor. Your vote is your power and voice, and if you don’t vote in the elected, eyes you don’t matter! I spoke to Lincoln and Chris. I feel Lincoln has taken the District Leader job and showed how viable it can be. I used to call our former District Leaders party planners whom you would only see at award dinners. But Lincoln was active and I hope Chris can build on Lincoln’s accomplishments.
Lincoln is very proud of his base and the efforts he made in winning most areas outside of the areas controlled by the Satmars. He is going to continue to be a strong advocate for the community. Just because he lost does not mean he is going away. Many feel he is gearing up to run against Current City Council Member Steve Levin. But in a recent conversation, he would not say what his plans are. Chris was very appreciative of Lincoln’s efforts as District leader and plans on making the issue of poverty a major issue of his term. He told me this is a civic issue and that he will be strongly advocating for funds to help address this issue. I wish both men nothing but good luck going forward and I pray that all residents of this community work together to improve things. Voting would be a big step in that direction.
Still on fire.