Chicken Little Was Right

Councilman Lew Fidler spends a lot of time dealing with other people’s misfortune.

He makes his living as the general counsel for LawCash, a company that advances money to people who are expected to win personal-injury settlement suits.

More publicly, in his capacity as an elected official, Mr. Fidler is the self-appointed Chicken Little of the mortgage crisis.

He first started talking about the potentially calamitous subprime housing situation to anyone who would listen three and a half years ago, when he began lobbying for a City Council grant to begin educating homeowners about a crisis that hadn’t happened yet. (In 2006, he got the grant—$750,000 to a nonprofit group dedicated to the issue.)

Last November, concerned by what he considered to be the alarming indifference of his constituents, he circulated a flier that showed his head imposed on the body of Disney’s Chicken Little character.

“You have to get their attention somehow,” Mr. Fidler explained.

Asking him how he knew what would happen elicits a five-minute monologue. “I continued to see closings,” he said. “One hundred percent loan-to-value.”

“It doesn’t take you very long, if you’re really thinking about it, to say: ‘What’s going to happen if real estate values stop going up—forget about going down—just stop going up?”

Mr. Fidler was elected in 2001. Before that he was, at various times, a Democratic district leader, an attorney, the campaign manager for several of Charles Hynes’ bids for Brooklyn district attorney and the chairman of a community board.

Despite some health problems—he is an overweight diabetic with bad eyesight, and he sometimes walks with a cane—he is a vigorous campaigner, and was reelected by a landslide in 2005.

More unexpectedly, as chair of the Council’s Youth Services Committee, he has led a quiet, politically unprofitable campaign to direct resources and money toward helping homeless youth in the city, many of whom are gay.

His office, down the hallway off the waiting room, looks like a place where an accountant in Brooklyn in the 1970s might have worked. Fidler, who is 51, would not have been out of place there. Wearing a short-sleeved collared shirt, a narrow tie and large geometric glasses, he leaned back in his chair and occasionally paused to take a phone call.

“You’re one of my favorite people,” he said to one caller, “if not one of my favorite agencies.”

Mr. Fidler grew up in East Flatbush, not far from where he lives now, in Sheepshead Bay. He represents a section of the borough that also includes Bergen Beach, Canarsie and Flatlands, and he is eager to talk about how the mortgage crisis affects his district.

“I know that Canarsie and Flatbush in Brooklyn is really hard,” he said. “So, for me, that’s a third of my district—and I call it ground zero.”

There’s a loud catcall whistle. “Sorry, that was the computer,” he said.

“If I was willing to live in Podunksville, I could buy myself 12 acres. So, I think people are going to start making decisions like that if we don’t pull out of the recession.

“It’s very circular,” he added. “Very cyclical and circular, both, and I mean those in different ways. The economy is cyclical, but the process here is somewhat circular.”

Chicken Little Was Right