Kristina Naplatarski is the newly elected Democratic District Leader of Assembly District 50. Naplatarski is born and raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and does communications for City Council person, Antonio Reynoso. She begins her day listening to Jay-Z and Nas and encourages folks to vote early!
What do you listen to in the mornings?
I’m a big hip hop, rap—Jay-Z is always my number one. I’ve been listening to the new NAS album a lot recently. I might transition to something a little calmer, but that’s the music I would start my day with.
What method of voting did you use in the June primary?
I voted in person on Election Day. Although I would recommend that people vote early in person for this election.
I was on the ballot for District Leader (DL). Part of the District Leader’s role is to make sure that polling sites across their district are in good order, going smoothly, and according to plan. So I wanted to make sure that that was happening even, you know before I was hopefully in office. So I spent Election Day going to every single, I believe every single polling site in the district.
What does it mean to vote during a pandemic?
I think the pandemic really underscored a lot of the systemic issues that we have in this country, right?
We are in the middle of a pandemic, but we are also fighting on a lot of other fronts. You have the public health crisis, but then we also had a real moment of reckoning with our Criminal Justice system. Then we also have big questions about whether we have leadership, at all levels of government local here in New York City, state, and federal government that is equipped to handle catastrophes like this.
I think that New Yorkers have been let down and [the pandemic] has opened a lot of people’s eyes and underscored a lot of the larger issues that we’re confronting. It has also emphasized why it’s important that we get involved and elect people who we want to represent us and lead us out of this crisis and ensure that we don’t end up in a catastrophic situation like we’re in right now ever again.
What is the role of a District Leader and what can we expect from them? (I’m sure you answer that all the time)
Oh, yes, but that’s a problem in and of itself is that most people do not know what a DL is, and that is not by coincidence—that is by design. Plain and simple, DLs form the base of a county’s Democratic Party. You’ve got the Democratic National Committee and then at the most local unit is the county. DLs in Brooklyn form the executive committee of the Kings County Democratic Party, and work with the Board of Elections to oversee the staffing of polling sites on Election Day, helping to make sure that operations run smoothly. They play a role in things like when there’s a special election at the state level, determining who is on the Democratic party line, they have a really huge role in the selection process of judges on certain circuits and a lot of technical party business. I’m hoping to use the position as a community organizer, helping to amplify concerns within my district, which is the 50th Assembly District. So that is Greenpoint Williamsburg, um, and small, small parts of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.
There’s a male and female role, which seems so outdated
It is outdated. I completely agree. Yes, there are male and female District Leaders
In what scenarios or what issues that come I’m up in my community, that I can go to my District Leader for help?
Yeah, that’s a really good question. One of the main reasons why I wanted to run is because the district leaders in many districts simply carried out the party functions, but they don’t meaningfully engage with their communities. I ran alongside a bunch of other District Leaders in Brooklyn who all share a vision of having the Brooklyn Democratic Party be an organization that engages local Democrats, is responsive to their needs, and helps to craft a vision for what the Democratic Party in Brooklyn wants to see, because that hasn’t really been done across Brooklyn. I see a District Leader as being a connector. It is an unpaid part-time position, and I’ll continue to work my full-time job in addition to doing this. We do not have a budget. You don’t have legislative power, but what we are really well equipped to do, is connect residents to the organizations that can help them, the local elected representatives that can help them, and disperse basic civic engagement education.
For example, I ran a campaign through the pandemic and we transitioned everything to digital and started off that transition by calling people and asking, “are you doing okay? Do you need assistance with anything?” Then from there connecting them to the appropriate legislator or community organization who could assist them. Just having a person in the community who is well equipped to facilitate those kinds of relationships is what a District Leader can be used for, in addition to that, it can also be a bully pulpit position, keeping your finger on the pulse of what the community sees as its greatest needs, its priorities and then helping residents to organize around those issues, um, and amplifying concerns and causes.
I am working as a poll worker this year for the first time and I’m getting mixed information about Early Voting. What is the District Leader’s role in this case? I live in Queens by the way.
Your borough might be a little bit different from Brooklyn, but there are multiple ways to sign up to be a poll worker. You can sign up online or you can be a County appointee. Typically [the Board of Elections] tells us as DLs, that for EV, they like to have people who are more familiar and who have worked elections in the past. There’s a sense that a lot of people who were signing up online are newer poll workers because they are not already in the system and typically funneled into working Election Day rather than EV.
The Board of Elections (BoE) handles all of the classes when it comes to EV. When it comes to even basic training, DLs can help to check and make sure that the BoE has them registered for a class and be that intermediary between poll workers and the BOE should the need arise.
What attracted you to the District Leader role?
For me, the position is very personal and not just the position, but being able to represent this community. I was born and raised in Greenpoint. I grew up in the 50th Assembly District and always felt very connected to my community. I went to local public schools here and interned for elected officials here; that’s how I got my start in public service. I owe it all to the strong sense of activism that is present in North Brooklyn.
What got me interested in the DL position was this realization that the Brooklyn Democratic Party had a history of being checked out of what was happening in our community. This realization was brought to my attention by local clubs and people who are involved in politics.
We are in an AD that has fought many fights and there was never really the sense that our past DLs were standing with the community in those fights. You just didn’t know anything about them, similar to how you just asked, “What is a DL?” Most people don’t know.
You’ve mentioned that you’re running as a reform candidate, can you explain this angle?
I thought it was kind of an injustice that we have this role and someone who was elected on the ballot every two years yet they’re not really using the position to its full potential. There’ve been people working to further values like transparency, inclusion, and accountability within the Brooklyn Democratic Party for a long time, There are a number of clubs in Brooklyn, like New Kings Democrats in North Brooklyn and Progressive Democrats. I ran along with a few other reform candidates and we’re all hoping that we can get more people to know that the Brooklyn Democratic Party exists because that is the first channel to getting people involved and the more people who are involved in the Party, the more eyes you have on it, the more you can assure that it is acting with integrity and responsive to residents’ needs. That is what I’m trying to do when I talk about being a reformer.
You’re a New Yorker, born and raised. Now, you’ve run a successful campaign, so what have you learned about New York City politics in this process?
I work for an elected official for my day job and I started off by working on his reelection campaign. I’ve been involved in the periphery of politics for most of my life. But it’s totally different when you are running yourself and it’s hard. It’s really hard to run a campaign. I guess what I didn’t realize was just how many aspects go into it. It’s like the ultimate startup to run a campaign. My biggest takeaway is that there are so many things to think about. Yeah, it’s not easy during a pandemic either.
NYC political landscape is getting arguably younger. What does it mean to be a young, born-and-raised New Yorker in politics?
We definitely need to bring new blood, new energy, and new ideas into politics. We’re facing challenges that are unprecedented, so we need as many ways to think about things and as many ideas brought to the table as possible—getting the younger generation involved is really important in that. At the same time, we also need to make sure that we are including all voices, and as I said before, the more perspectives that you can bring to the table, the more ways that you can look at solving an issue, um, the better equipped you are to find one that’s actually going to work. So I think that’s great. I think a lot of this started in 2018 with the anti-IDC [Independent Democratic Conference] movement. That was really inspiring to watch before I decided to run and we need to continue on with that momentum of bringing new, fresh ideas to the table; whether it be from incumbents who have been in office for a long time or someone new.
Have you ever lived outside of New York?
I went to school here, a whole life in New York.
What are your thoughts on the whole, “New York City is over” conversation about culture being cut off because of COVID-19?
I don’t think NYC is ever going to be dead. We are in extraordinary times and we’re in survival mode, to be honest, across the city and all across the world. New York City is always going to have its pulse. It’s always going to have its intrigue and its peculiarities that draw people. You can’t eradicate that. So I don’t buy into it.
What is an issue that New Yorkers need to pay more attention to and how do we get more involved?
We are pretty tuned into what our issues are. Housing is a huge issue here in this city, as it is in cities across the country. I think we need to make sure that we are preserving the limited affordable housing that we have and building truly affordable housing for the most vulnerable. Cities all across America should also be paying attention to how we’re treating environmental issues and the role that our cities play in helping to mitigate negative environmental impacts.
Who is your dream collaborator?
That is a big one. When I was younger, I boxed, [and there was one boxer who] I consider my big sister. She a freshman female boxer and has really been instrumental in the fight for equal pay within the industry. I’ve been trying to collab with her for a long time and figuring out she’s also a diehard Brooklynite, a Southern Brooklyn girl. She is my dream collaborator and hopefully we’ll make it happen one of these days.