Saturday, August 03, 2013

George Arnold for City Council

For many years, George Edward Arnold was a fixture at both Huntington Beach's pier and at City Hall. Colorful, ornery, opinionated, and sometimes outright rude, he was our town gadfly and the unofficial "Mayor of Main Street."

George is best remembered as a perpetual unsuccessful candidate for Huntington Beach City Council. He ran for that office at least six times, including the 1968, 1972, 1976, 1988, and 1994 elections. He variously described himself as a "self-employed entrepreneur," "T-shirt salesman," "handyman" or "landscaper," when filing papers to run.

Weathered, cantankerous, and with a voice that suffered from smoking and a lack of teeth, everyone assumed George was about 20 years older than he really was. His dentures were stolen when he was in the Army, and he never bothered to replace them.

The fact that people had trouble understanding him didn’t deter George in the least. He harangued city officials and staff regularly for almost three full decades, calling for rent control (especially for seniors), a halt to Downtown development, and various other causes. He often accused council members of being paid stooges for real estate developers.

George participated in all of H.B.’s 4th of July parades, riding a bicycle and dressed as a clown or in some other outlandish getup. He was determined to have fun and get some attention, even if he hadn’t filled out a parade entry form.

Born in his family’s home, at 410 Hartford St, in Huntington Beach on January 21, 1927, George was the second child of Harold W. and Anna Marie Arnold. George’s sister, Velma, was one year older. Harold was an electrician and lineman.
The Huntington Beach Pier in the 1920s.
George had a rough childhood. Some say he came from an abusive family. Perhaps that was the reason why he never married or had children himself.

He didn’t have a steady job but he would sweep floors, do yardwork, and sell t-shirts from his flatbed truck at the base of the pier. In his younger days, he worked in the oil fields. Some claim he even had a business license at some point. George was never a bum, and he didn’t panhandle. However, there were times when he had to sleep in a tent on the back of his truck.

He made his pitch to the public from the folding table where he sold t-shirts, down by the pier. Often, the shirts promoted his City Council candidacy. One year, he even printed up shirts in preparation of a run for Governor.

In 1988, George ended a campaign speech by saying, “I’m the only candidate with progress on my mind, love in my heart and sand in my shoes." When another candidate at the event asked if this was true, George took off one boot and deposited a miniature sand dune on the floor.

In 1993, Councilman and former Police Chief Earle Robitaille called George "the village idiot" during a council meeting. George quickly responded with a new line of t-shirts that read, "The real village idiot sits on the City Council."

Another of Robitaille’s outbursts – this time against a different citizen – involved the phrase, “…and the horse you rode in on!” This inspired another line of George Arnold t-shirts. And in a cunning example marketing synergy, George also took to riding into Council meetings on a stick horse, offering insights that came "straight from the horse's mouth."
One of George's t-shirts. Photo courtesy Shawna Corsi.
Over the years, George faced legal trouble for selling t-shirts without a business license, for throwing cigarette butts on the ground, for listing a false address on his driver’s license, and for refusing to tell police officers his name and address.  In each case, the charges against him were eventually dropped.

One of these incidents led to his arrest and brief detention. This too led to a line of campaign t-shirts, featuring an image of George behind bars and the words, "George Arnold for City Council. Your man on the inside."

In late October of 1995, (between election years), George moved to Twentynine Palms. Councilman Dave Garofalo arranged for his going-away party at the Pacific Coast Café (221 Main St.) and got everyone to donate at least $5 each toward George’s moving expenses. "After 50 years in town, he deserves a send-off," Garofalo said.

After moving, George still came back to Orange County now and then, to visit his H.B. friends. But eventually, the accumulation of hard years and Salem Lights caught up with George, in the form of emphysema and heart disease. George Arnold died in Desert Hot Springs at age 73, on March 17, 2002.

Today, a memorial plaque for George Arnold hangs on the wall outside the door of the Sugar Shack café on Main St. Ironically, it faces out onto the redeveloped Downtown that he fought so hard to prevent.


Rage Dandy said...

Great piece of local history, Chris.

Anonymous said...

Chris, your stories are as inspired as the amazing people you write about with such heart and insight. Thanks for showcasing real, local people who make the OC world so unique.

- A HB kid in exile on the east coast

Surf City Writer said...

Love this story, Chris!