Ms. Rosenthal sat next to Simon Belsky. She leaned over him, nodding, as he read. He spoke as if he was citing Chaucer or Whitman, or even Holy Gospel. All the while, his gruff voice booming, Mrs. Belsky buzzed about, serving drinks and assuring the comfort of her guests. Eventually she came to rest, sitting on the floor. And seeing this scene – a righteous man preaching, an elderly woman revering, and a wife adoring – I realized that I was not going to be writing your usual political profile.
All of that, of course, is absolute literary hyperbole; a writer’s mind twisting a perfectly normal scene. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Belsky is hardly your usual politician. He is, to say the least, rough around the edges. He has taken on causes that most politicians would call esoteric at best. He eschews the conventional political process. And his language… well, he’s more sailor than politician.
The 63-year-old retiree has become a bit of a prophet to the parking dispossessed. Take Rosenthal, for example. Just days before, Rosenthal – a Midwood resident with handicap privileges – had received a ticket for parking without paying a meter. The only problem is, she was nowhere near the address listed on the ticket, and there was no meter at her actual location. Angry at the fine, but like many other victims of incompetent parking regulators, she had little knowledge of how to fight it.
Belsky, though, had just been profiled in the NY Daily News – where Rosenthal got his number – for coming out victorious in a 2 ½ year battle versus the city. Outraged about a ticket he received for parking near a hydrant where there was none, he took the fight to the New York State Supreme Court, where the justices ruled the fines be dismissed and the city pay his court fees. The document he read to Rosenthal was the ruling in his case by Judge Michael Ambrosio – and he read it with fire in his voice.
Most people, his wife included, would have just paid the fine and avoided the hassle. But Belsky is a glutton for bureaucratic heckling. With one victory behind him, he’s stepping into the ring yet again, this time as a contender in the Democratic primaries against incumbent Councilman Michael C. Nelson, who represents the 48th District (Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach).
Like many folk frustrated with contemporary governance, Belsky has little love for the city’s politicians. In his narrative of New York politics, Bloomberg is a thief, the City Council his cronies, and almost every agent of governance an incompetent fraud, ridden with corruption and idiocy.
“This isn’t a government for the people,” he told Sheepshead Bites. “It’s a government that rapes the people.”
As his platform, Belsky speaks to that anger and disillusionment in all of us. He rails against corruption and mismanagement. He pleads for transparency. And he so cries for common sense that those talking to him – or at least I did – take a step back lest he swings his fist in frustration. This part, I promise, is no literary hyperbole.
Among the issues he focuses on are, of course, parking. As councilman he plans to work with the city’s prominent law schools to enlist students in a battle against abusive ticketing practices. The pro-bono organization will organize victims into a potential class-action lawsuit against the city, filing appeal after appeal until administrators act on the need for reform. He also plans to open the books of the city’s financial black holes – like the MTA and the School Construction Authority – and broadcast those agencies’ catastrophic financial bungling to the world.
“I will have the biggest voice you’ll ever see to address mismanagement, corruption and quality-of-life issues in this city,” he said.
In Sheepshead Bay, Belsky hopes to rekindle the fight for down-zoning and increased parking. He has already latched onto issues such as the Cherry Hill – Lundy’s debate, in which he skewers the likes of Councilman Nelson, CB 15 Chair Theresa Scavo and State Senator Carl Kruger, for opposing a business that has poured millions into a decrepit building. And he has singled out the fishing fleet as a valuable Brooklyn industry that needs to be promoted by city authorities.
But does he have a chance? Can a foul-mouthed, hot-tempered retiree, with no political experience win an election against a two-term incumbent? That’s up to the electorate – and if his fundraising is any indication, they’re reacting to his message. Belsky has already raised more than $13,000, primarily in small contributions from a spattering of housewives, retirees, small business owners and the self-employed. Not bad for a guy who says he “will not give funds to political groups to buy votes,” or pander to local political parties and interest groups for campaign funds.
But in the presence of Belsky, I had the feeling winning is a secondary objective. His real aim seems to be to leave a mark in the consciousness of the electorate; to inspire others to fight the Kafka-esque obsolescence of an idiotic political machine.
“Whether I win or lose doesn’t matter,” he said. “If I lose, my wife and I will go on a cruise. But I guarantee this, you’ll never see anything like me again.”
As for Ms. Rosenthal, she followed Belsky’s advice. Her ticket was dismissed a few days later.
(If you’ve been wrongly accused of a parking violation, you can contact Simon Belsky at 718-769-7406 or 917-335-2609, or by e-mailing him.)