Last year, Brooklyn politics-as-usual got a shakeup via the election of glasses-sporting 27-year-old Lincoln Restler to a State Committee seat as the District Leader for Williamsburg and the surrounding environs. Restler and the New Kings Democrats, a grassroots lefty organization in Brooklyn, took on crooked Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez and won, showing that with the right amount of effort and door-knocking, an upstart can get voted into local elected office.
The Voice wrote about NKD a bit last year during that election cycle. Recently we heard from Sarah Baker, a NKD organizer who’s now involved in a new project down in D.C. with other young Brooklyn political minds. She and Carlos Odio, an Obama campaign veteran, are running the Candidate Project, whose goal is basically to replicate Lincoln Restler’s success all over the country by recruiting progressives to run for local elected positions (the political establishment in Washington now being seen as something of a lost cause). Odio is the director of the project and Baker’s title is digital director. Yesterday they launched the 2,012 for 2012 initiative, which will attempt to get 2,012 regular people elected to local offices in the 2012 cycle. Brooklyn hipster-pols are going national!
Baker is taking a year off from Brooklyn to work on the Candidate Project in D.C. She and Odio met working on various Brooklyn campaigns; Baker was an important force behind the push to get Lincoln Restler elected, while Odio went off to work for Obama.
“We’re trying to replicate what we’ve been doing in Brooklyn,” Baker said. “We’re trying to get regular local people to think of themselves as someone who could be potentially running for office.”
Odio echoed her: “The project comes from a lot of inspirations, among those inspirations was the reform work coming out of New York.”
2,012 for 2012 is actually now 5,000 for 2012, since they’ve already hit their original goal of 2,012 pledging to run for office. The Candidate Project crew partners with other orgs to get people in shape to campaign; they see themselves as a “hub” for organizing a scattered national effort. They’re encouraging people to run for “everything from dogcatcher to state legislator,” according to Odio.
Lincoln Restler represents the kind of endgame this project is looking for, though his was a partisan election and the Candidate Project is trying to get people in non-partisan positions. He told the Voice, “The area in Brooklyn that I have the privilege of representing is the backyard of the machine boss,” referring to Vito Lopez. “What we proved in Brooklyn is that by knocking on every door, talking to our neighbors and capitalizing on the power of our vote, we could upset the machine.”
There are 500,000 local elected positions in the U.S., so 2,012 or even 5,000 seems like a drop in the bucket. But this is something the Tea Party has been doing for a while (see: Michele Bachmann). And because of Occupy Wall Street, the moment is uniquely ripe for the left to organize the way the Christian right has been doing since the ’90s, according to the organizers the Voice spoke with.
“I think OWS and the overall Occupy movement has definitely woken up progressives and energized them,” said Justin Krebs, a senior fellow at the New Organizing Institute who is partnering with the Candidate Project. “But it hasn’t come up with an electoral strategy, and there are other progressives who are energized but do think more electorally.”
As of this posting, 2034 candidates have signed up to run in 2012. If you want to fight the machine and get elected as dogcatcher, let us direct you here.