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Reality Check

Gubernatorial candidate Michael Arth thought he could play politics by his own rules. He’s learning it’s not so easy.

Photo: Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A, Created: 2010:10:14 01:09:00

Carlos Amoedo

Rage Against the Machine: After he was shut out by the Democratic Party, Michael Arth (pictured in his office) decided to wage an independent campaign for governor of Florida

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2010:07:27 01:01:36

Nearly three months later, after a dozen unanswered e-mails and several calls to the party regarding his candidacy, Arth filed a three-page official grievance titled “The Florida Democratic Party is not being Democratic.” Despite being published in full on the Miami Herald’s “Naked Politics” blog, it was roundly ignored by party officials.

Then came the Florida Democratic Party conference at the Disney Yacht Club resort last October. “The first night I was there I was doing great,” Arth says. “Hundreds of Democrats were coming up to our table and were making donations, and I thought ‘Well, this is pretty good.’

“And then Alex Sink spoke outside to everybody, and I stood next to the stage waiting my turn. And that’s when Karen Thurman came out – she’s the chair of the [Florida] Democratic Party – and she said ‘No, no, I’m not going to let you speak. We just want to focus on one candidate.’”

The party had already anointed Sink as its candidate, almost a year before the primary even took place. Arth says Thurman physically blocked him from taking the stage.

The next morning, Arth says, he found he had been reassigned to a table in a nearly empty room far away from the main hall, to where he calls “political Siberia.” His campaign materials, he says, had been put into a storage room.

Despite the multiple rejections, Arth held out for eight more months as a Democrat, hoping that the party brass would come around. They never did.

The Orlando Weekly tried to contact Eric Jotkoff to discuss the aforementioned incidents, but multiple calls and messages went unanswered. Requests to speak with Ms. Thurman were redirected to Jotkoff, and the Sink campaign also declined to comment on Arth’s criticisms of her platform.

That the state’s Democratic leaders don’t want to talk about Arth doesn’t surprise Al Krulick, Arth’s running mate (and contributor to the Orlando Weekly’s Arts & Culture section). “They don’t want to play with Michael,” Krulick says. “Michael’s too smart.”

Krulick ran for U.S. Congress in 1996 and 1998 on the Democratic ticket against Bill McCollum, and says he was “pulled back” into the political fold by Arth. “Here’s a guy who has actually thought things through, and actually has answers, not slogans,” he says.

Yet Arth’s preference for answers over slogans didn’t resonate as well with the media, members of which received press kits with 67 pages of information and a DVD (and later, his book). When Arth went on a campaign tour from Key West to Pensacola in July, making the whole trip by bicycle, he received little coverage outside of his own blog.

To a seasoned observer like Roger Handberg, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida, the media’s unwillingness to give Arth attention is nothing personal. “The media historically likes a horse-race, where you’ve got two horses battling for the win,” he says. “It makes life simpler for them, less complicated.”

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