Powerful political advisor David Garth, who spearheaded the creation of the modern political TV commercial and helped elect governors, senators and mayors, has died in New York. He was 84.
Garth died Monday at his home in Manhattan after a long illness, said longtime colleague George Arzt, who served as former Mayor Ed Koch‘s press secretary.
Although he never held office, Garth was instrumental in shaping New York’s government and political process. The mayors he helped elect — John Lindsay, Koch, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg — served 38 of the last 45 years, and he helped Gov. Hugh Carey capture office in 1974.
Garth, who worked mainly for Democrats but also some moderate Republicans, was known for being fiercely competitive with a high success rate on Election Day. He was an outsized figure who was known for his salty language and became the basis for the political mastermind in the 1972 Robert Redford film “The Candidate.”
He insisted that his candidates speak directly to voters, often in direct-to-camera commercials, and admit when they made mistakes. He ran New York’s first television-based campaign in 1965, helping little known Rep. John Lindsay capture City Hall.
Garth helped another underdog, Koch, defeat Mario Cuomo for mayor in 1977 and so impressed the vanquished candidate that he asked Garth to help his own gubernatorial campaign years later.
Garth also brokered Giuliani’s late 2001 endorsement of Bloomberg, a political neophyte who was trailing in the polls until he received the blessing of Giuliani, the outgoing incumbent hailed as a national hero for his leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Among Garth’s other clients: Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Govs. Ella Grasso of Connecticut and Brendan Byrne of New Jersey, and Sens. Arlen Specter and John Heinz of Pennsylvania. He also worked with Adlai Stevenson during his unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign.
Not all of Garth’s candidates won. John B. Anderson hired Garth as his national campaign manager but failed to find traction as a third-party presidential candidate in 1980. Walter Mondale hired him to design TV and radio ads but lost his 1984 challenge to President Reagan in a landslide.
Garth was born David Goldberg on March 5, 1930. He grew up in Woodmere, N.Y., the son of Leo Goldberg, a lingerie manufacturer, and Beulah Jagoda, who was national vice president of the American Jewish Congress.
He attended Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa., and served in the U.S. Army’s intelligence branch. He adopted the name Garth from a former gangster-turned-violinist in Maxwell Anderson’s play “Winterset.”
“My father came here from Russia and his name wasn’t Goldberg, it was Nisinnyevich,” Garth said, according to a 1980 article in the New York Times. “Immigration gave him Goldberg. He always said, either change it back or find something that you like. Garth had the same initial and I liked the sound of it.”