Walt Dartland was known for his dedication to championing “the little guy.”
He did it in Miami-Dade County as its consumer advocate, as Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth’s deputy for consumer affairs in the ’70s and ’80s and as founder and executive director of the Consumer Federation for the Southeast. He even made a late-in-life run for Congress in 2016.
After a more than four-decade career in consumer advocacy, Dartland died Thursday, succumbing to lymphoma. He was 83.
“He was just an amazing man. I think it’s unlikely we’ll ever see someone like Walt Dartland ever again,” said Tallahassee public relations executive Ron Sachs, who got to know Dartland as a Miami reporter in the ’70s. “He was calm. He was earnest. He was never mad, and everybody knew he always spoke the truth.”
Dartland’s most well-known cause was Florida’s Lemon Law — the legislation he wrote that protects car buyers if their new car turns out to be defective in the first two years. He also fought (pro bono) to lead a protest and win a settlement for a poor, African-American neighborhood in a small Panhandle community whose homes were falling apart from construction defects.
“He was unwilling to let those people be unrepresented,” Sachs said. “And he won.”
Dartland and Butterworth met and became friends when the two ran against each other for attorney general in the 1986 Democratic primary.
“He was an icon, a fantastic guy,’’ Butterworth told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Dartland was a major in the Marines, and graduated with a degree in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. He earned a law degree at the University of Michigan, and was a Fulbright Scholar.
Dartland’s decision — at 81 — to run as a Democratic congressional candidate in a deeply red district was called “the longest of long-shot” by the Tallahasse Democrat. Yet he inspired dedicated volunteers who hand-painted yard signs with caricatures in his likeness.
“I think it is my ultimate duty as a citizen to make this a real democracy,” he told the paper. “I just couldn’t let there be an election and no Democratic candidate talking to people.”
He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Diana Dartland, and children Mark, Chris and Dottie; grandchildren Victoria, Evan and Flynn; and sister Christina. Details on a memorial service have not been released.