An ex-presidential candidate who most people think is homeless has launched a campaign to clean up Plumb Beach as he wiles away his afternoons in a makeshift tent replete with a beach chair, sun umbrella, and a small grill.
But, despite what people say, retired immigration attorney Barry Deutsch says he’s no bum — he’s a beatnik.
“It’s my tax-free summer beach jungle hide-a-way paradise,” said Deutsch as he sat among the grungy Shangri-la he’s erected amid a thatch of shrubs and trees between the junk-filled shore and the Belt Parkway — a swath of land maintained by the National Parks Service.
Deutsch, who ran for president in 1992 on a lark and received a measly 26 votes at the New Hampshire Primary — 55,637 less than the eventual winner, former senator Paul Tsongas — said he’s spent the summer chilling at his makeshift flophouse, cleaning the beach, swimming in Jamaica Bay, and searching for the perfect shady spot before returning to his Ocean Avenue apartment at 5 pm.
But area residents weren’t as enthused about Deutsch’s sloppy Eden, claiming that his miniature Hooverville could bring vagrants and vagabonds to the beach.
“There’s a whole community of homeless people down there now,” said Sheepshead Bay Plumb Beach Civic Association member Tom Paoillo.
No one, save for Deutsch, appeared to be living in Plumb Beach during our visit, but the former candidate’s lair seems anything but Utopian: dead horseshoe crabs, fish, and other sea creatures lie lifeless on his carpet of trash, its boundary created by a necklace of ripped sheets suspended from trees.
The maverick, who preached against the North American Free Trade Agreement to former First Lady and current secretary of state Hillary Clinton as well as former California governor Jerry Brown in New Hampshire, and ranted about the evils of globalization in a bizarre YouTube video involving his alter ego Dr. Sherlock Litter, said the scraps were “schmatas” — Yiddish for rags — that were kept in a bag until someone came and ripped them up, along with a few tree limbs snapped and strewn around his encampment.
“Look at these, they’re just seedlings, they would have been beautiful,” Deutsch said.
National Park Service officials say they never heard of Deutsch or his campaign to clean up Plumb Beach, but they don’t care what he does as long as he doesn’t camp there at night.
“This is New York,” said John Warren, a spokesman for Gateway National Park. “We don’t arrest people just for being different, but beaches are for daytime use. If people who are in violation of that policy, we’ll have park police look into that.”
Reach reporter Colin MIxson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-4514.