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

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.

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