Man who spent fortune on anti-incumbent ads could be hero of campaign

October 30, 1990|By Ellen Uzelac

If any hero emerges from the 1990 elections, it could be Jack Gargan, Angry Man.

Over the past three months, the 60-year-old retired financial planner from Florida has invested the bulk of his savings in full-page newspaper advertisements -- including one in The Sun -- urging Americans to "Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out" when they vote a week from today.

His one-man crusade to unseat every member of Congress has hit home in many pockets of the nation, and his headquarters in Tampa has been besieged with thousands of telephone calls and letters and more than $400,000 in donations.

A one-time horse race announcer and cruise ship host, the affable Mr. Gargan said with characteristic confidence: "If this is a successful campaign, and we have every reason to believe it will be, we're going to finish the job in '92."

More than 170 ads have run coast-to-coast since late June, when Mr. Gargan placed his first ad in the St. Petersburg Times. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," the headline says over a page of diatribes:

"I'm outraged. . . . I'm enraged. . . . I'm disgusted. . . . I'm insulted. . . . I'm shocked. . . . I'm livid. . . . I'm fed up. . . . I'm really hacked off. . . ."

"He knows the most synonyms for 'angry' I've ever seen in my life," said Jim Desler, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Gargan, who has become something of a folk hero, said in a telephone interview that he invested $45,000 of his savings in the first few newspaper advertisements after becoming incensed over the nation's savings and loan scandal, a recent congressional pay raise and the federal deficit.

About the "budget fiasco," he said, "It would be a joke if it wasn't so serious."

Mr. Gargan, a sometime handwriting analyst, describes himself as an "idealist" and a "patriot" and "just a regular guy."

"We're finally waking up to the fact that this country is in a helluva mess, and the public is finally waking up to the fact that their congressman is an S.O.B., too," said Mr. Gargan, who has not let triple bypass surgery just three months ago interfere with his passionate campaign. "Our country is truly going down the tubes, and the Congress is to blame, I don't care how you slice it. It's a national disgrace."

His is not a lonely voice in the wilderness.

"People have been screaming about Congress and government ever since the Constitution was adopted," said Mr. Desler. "This seems to be the latest, and quite visible, manifestation of a popular, grass-roots movement of voters who believe the solution is to clean house. This is not something we take lightly. I do think he's getting his message across."

Voter patterns, however, have consistently shown that no matter how much people complain about Congress, they still re-elect nearly all incumbents.

Mr. Gargan's anti-incumbent crusade, called T.H.R.O. Inc., hopes to stay in business after the November elections, but if the non-profit corporation does dissolve, according to Mr. Gargan, any leftover money would be given to charity.

A current favorite of talk-show hosts, Mr. Gargan has run for political office only once -- 16 years ago when he sought a seat on the Tampa City Council. He said he spent less than $59 on the campaign, got 13,000 votes and lost.

"The public is mad . . . and they're not going to take it anymore," said Mr. Gargan. "Not this time. We're getting even."

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