WASHINGTON -- The Ohio dealer and a couple of Maryland dealers weren't supposed to have a chance to get this far. Their path was winding, blocked by companies with deeper pockets and larger legal teams.
But with one stroke of the president's pen last week, auto dealers Jack Fitzgerald, Tammy Darvish and Alan Spitzer succeeded in potentially upsetting some of the terminations of Chrysler and General Motors dealerships.
Their story is marked with dedication, dealer connections and a lot of their own money.
"This was in many ways a victory of David over Goliath," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who helped champion the dealers' campaign. "There were lots of groups involved in the effort, but this trio played an especially effective role."
The path to the legislation, which gives rejected dealerships the right to seek reinstatement through neutral arbitration, started seven months ago. It began just days after Chrysler abruptly terminated 789 dealerships and GM began targeting 1,350 dealerships for closure by October 2010.
These dealers became obsessed with getting their stores back. It led to several political battles, including a significant fight with the National Automobile Dealers Association and other groups -- without a guarantee of success.
In mid-May, Spitzer happened to see Fitzgerald interviewed on a TV news show. Spitzer, a 63-year-old dealer near Cleveland, had seven Chrysler dealerships canceled. Fitzgerald, a 74-year-old dealer in Maryland, also had just lost seven Chrysler stores.
Spitzer and Fitzgerald had known each other 35 years and had worked together on committees.
On the evening of May 20, Spitzer dialed Fitzgerald's office line, hoping to catch him working late in his cramped Washington office. Fitzgerald answered.
"We commiserated," said Spitzer, who was testifying in the Chrysler bankruptcy case. "The dealer cuts angered us. It was so un-American."
They concluded there was one hope: federal legislation. Politicians run for re-election. And the same politicians who had berated GM and Chrysler for failing to cut costs represent states and districts in which car dealers live, vote and make campaign contributions.