David Garth earned his niche in television campaign history when he filmed ads for New York mayoral candidate John Lindsay, shown walking down city streets, his jacket slung over his shoulder, tie loosened, looking rugged and dynamic. That brand of cinema verite became a cliche, and Garth went on to refine other techniques to help elect his most recent New York mayoral candidate, a long shot named Ed Koch. But this cigar-smoking, tough-talking campaign consultant retains his niche because he's had more winners than anyone in the business.
The reason for Garth's success is that he's a quick-tempered master who blusters, curses, cajoles and works like a longshoreman to elect his candidates. Among his winners: John Heinz, Adlai Stevenson III and John Tunney in the senatorial category; governors John Gilligan, Brendan Byrne and Hugh Carey; and mayors Lindsay, Koch and Tom Bradley.
Garth likes to fill his campaign ads with noise and information becuase he believes viewers absorb more that way. A typical Garth ad is a busy, rough-edged production featuring statistics running across a screen at the same time a candidate delivers his pitch. Garth eschews jingles and scorns artsy mood spots like the ones Gerald Rafshoon sometimes produced for presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in 1976.
"All I remember from the Jimmy Carter campaign," says Garth, "was Carter running his hands through peanuts."
At age 49, Garth is a darling of Democrats. His Manhattan-based company offers a full selection of campaign services; for as much as $25,000 a month his Garth Associates will handle polling, planning and media. Or he'll take a more limited role in a campaign at a smaller fee. In the next couple of months Garth will decide whose campaigns he'll handle in 1980. He says he's been offered 39 state candidates; he adds that in 12 of those states he was approached by candidates for both parties.
"We pick campaigns that are interesting, challenging or because we like the guy we're working for, or don't like the guy he's running against," says Garth.
Unlike others in his trade, he says he isn't looking for work in the presidential sweepstakes. Garth says he wouldn't handle a Jerry Brown campaign because he thinks Brown is "flaky," Jimmy Carter has his own operation with Rafshoon at the helm, and he doubts that Ted Kennedy will run.
Some of his biggest boosters are politicians who hire Garth after suffering a defeat at his hands.
Bill Green, for example, asked him to help him win the job as mayor of Philadelphia this fall. Green learned about Garth in 1976 when he lost the chance to be Pennsylvania's Democratic candidate for senator to Garth's man, John Heinz.
"I didn't," says Green, "have to be hit over the head twice." CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Donal Holway