Gubernatorial candidate Michael Arth thought he could play politics by his own rules. He’s learning it’s not so easy.
Published: October 21, 2010
Arth’s past is laced with so many incredible stories that even the barest outline of his pre-Florida life took him a couple of hours to explain. Arth left his Dallas home at age 17 and worked under legendary magazine illustrator Don Punchatz at the age of 20. By 25 he had enough success as a poster artist that he could afford to travel the world for a year. In his travels he’s given piggy-back rides to kids in the Chinese countryside, taken the hallucinogen ayahuasca in the South American wilderness and driven a Volkswagen van from Greece to Scandinavia. After moving to Hollywood, Calif., in his 30s, he taught himself architecture and built a seven-story Mediterranean-style villa, “Casa de Lila,” on a cliff overlooking Los Angeles.
Arth says he always had an interest in urban planning – “Ever since I was a little kid, I fantasized about building the perfect city,” he says – so in 1999, he arrived at his own philosophy of urban design. He called it “New Pedestrianism,” and it encourages more walking and less driving. The next year, he found DeLand’s Cracktown and decided it would be the perfect place to try out his ideas. The rest is history.
Given his eccentric past and relatively radical political views, in person Arth comes off as a surprisingly normal man, looking more like an accountant than an artist. He makes conversation easily, although he’s cautious about being misunderstood and chooses his words carefully. When talking about the issues, he’s more likely to cite statistics than make sweeping statements, and usually qualifies his political arguments by mentioning that his writing is more concise and cogent.
His election prospects initially looked encouraging, at least for a “dark horse” candidate. Not long after he declared his candidacy, the Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a front-page story about him and his successes in DeLand, followed shortly thereafter by another front-page article in the DeLand-Deltona Beacon. Convinced that he would have an audience, he dedicated the following nine months to writing a 480-page book, Democracy and the Common Wealth: Breaking the Stranglehold of the Special Interests, which touches on practically every major problem facing the country. He says that spending more than half the span of his campaign writing it was worth the effort, and it allowed him to further develop his knowledge of the issues. “Instead of focusing my time on just winning, I focused on being the kind of person that all of our leaders should be,” he says.
As Arth writes in his book, it wasn’t long before he had his first encounter with the reality of politics: “On June 5, 2009, a week after I filed for office, I called the Florida Democratic Party. By chance, communication director Eric Jotkoff picked up the phone. In the only conversation that I have been able to have with any top [Florida Democratic Party] official or leader, Jotkoff told me not to run for governor unless I had $3 million to start and $1.3 million a week to win. As Jotkoff told me, ‘It’s not about the issues; it’s about the money.’”
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