12/23/2014 10:55 am ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Garth the Great

I met David Garth about 60 years ago when an ex-girlfriend of mine introduced me to him in his tiny apartment at the Des Artistes. At the time, David was still doing PR for the Yonkers trotting races. I doubted I'd ever see him again, but in 1964 he popped into my office at United Press International Television News and bought some five or six hours of our library film featuring Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, who were vying for the presidency. He came in again to pick up the film and I don't think I saw him again until 1982.

I did notice that he'd never paid for the film, even the cost of printing. Recently (December 18th) I learned why. He was working with an association of psychiatrists and psychologists, Democrats all, who were planning on doing a documentary suggesting that Barry Goldwater was nuts -- a major theme of pre-election leftists. The psychiatrists/psychologists thought better of the idea when they saw the pre-election polls, regained their sanity and abandoned the project.

The next time I ran into David, he was running the presidential campaign of John Anderson -- the liberal Republican who was running on a third party ticket against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Anderson was getting above 15 percent in the pre-election polls and the institution controlling the political debates, The League of Women Voters, demanded that any candidate with polls higher than 15 percent had to be included in the presidential debates. Neither Reagan nor Carter would agree to the debate with Anderson, so there were no early debates.

It wasn't until the end of October that Anderson slipped under the 15 percent level and Reagan and Carter were able to hold a one on one debate. I called David and said that CNN could inject Anderson into the debate on television if Anderson was willing. David thought that was such a good idea that he shopped it around to CBS, ABC and NBC. They turned it down, so he came back to me and agreed to it. We found the appropriate venue, the appropriate crowd and thanks to the wonders of videotape, we would insert Anderson into the debate. He would reply to them, we would record their next question, and when his reply was done, we would pick up the previously taped exchange between the candidates.

Garth got it and managed to convince PBS that they should run the CNN version of the debate immediately following the end of the Reagan/Carter battle. How Garth did this I never knew, but Anderson was seen in CNN's 3.5 million homes and PBS's 75 million. I was pleased, Garth was very pleased, but in the election, Anderson got only 5 percent of the vote. (The GOP and the Dems spent more than 10 times as much money on the election than Anderson/Garth could raise. We paid for the debate poster, which still hangs on our wall.)

I didn't see much of Garth again until I moved back from Atlanta to New York in 1984. By then Garth was in the process of electing three New York mayors, two New York governors, senators from New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, and other assorted candidates stretching from Venezuela to Israel. He was president of the Des Artistes, which Pat, my wife, and I moved into. He was still a tough guy and he ran the board tolerating no insubordination. (Pat, who chaired the board from 2000 to 2012 ultimately succeeded him.) Even at his death, he was still supporting the Democratic candidate for Congress from Pennsylvania.

David helped to create the modern electoral process. He used television brilliantly; he helped introduce the slickness and trickery that is used by almost all political operatives as they seek to elect their candidates. He was smart, he was tough and for the last 30 years, he was my friend.