Kenneth Matsumura stands alone in a bare white office overlooking the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Dwight Way. A few iMacs gather dust on the desks, along with piles of handouts advertising a cancer drug he plans to sell. A map of California hangs on the wall -- a dozen push pins puncture Chico, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. A yellow poster, emblazoned with "Recall2006.com," hangs behind a bare conference table. Everything is still, empty, and quiet. Nonetheless, Matsumura says all he needs are thirty thousand friends, and he'll drive Arnold Schwarzenegger out of office. "On the Web site, you'll see that we asked for thirty thousand volunteers," he says. "That, I felt, would cinch the deal. That's only forty signatures per volunteer, which is pretty easy to get."
Matsumura hit the big time five months ago, when he held a press conference and announced his plan to launch a drive to recall the governor. Animus against Schwarzenegger was at its height, and the media scrambled to cover his kickoff. Wire services spread Matsumura's story around the country. "Schwarzenegger May Face Other Side of Recall Challenge," warned a headline in The New York Times. But time does what it does, and the public's attention has turned to hunting accidents and other distractions. The governor has vowed to work with his opponents, and state Democrats have talked about building a new bipartisan future.
Matsumura, meanwhile, still has that old-time religion. He quietly drafted a recall petition and submitted it to the secretary of state. And he recently held a second press conference, where he called on volunteers around the state to help him carry out his promise to rid California of its Austrian autocrat.
Matsumura isn't the dedicated politico you might expect. He's a tall, gentlemanly physician who bows slightly when he shakes your hand. Shy and soft-spoken, with an immaculate suit and spit-shined wingtips, he almost winces when he describes why he just couldn't let Schwarzenegger stay in power. "People were talking about recalling the governor, but we were so busy taking care of their patients that nobody did anything other than just talk," he says. "Then one day, I was talking to my patient, who was what you'd call the working poor. And it just hit me. He was telling me that he was cutting his pills in half sometimes because he needed to stretch it to the next payday. ... Here I am helping this patient take one step forward, but here is Schwarzenegger making him take four steps backward."
Now that the secretary of state has approved his recall petition, Matsumura has until June 22 to collect 1,038,000 signatures. But that's chump change, since he already has ten thousand volunteers on the job. Well, make that ten thousand e-mails professing support. Still, Matsumura claims that all over California, citizens have resolved to unseat the governor in a special election, even though a regular gubernatorial election is scheduled for November. Take one of his volunteers down in Los Angeles: "She's great!" Matsumura says. "Everywhere she goes; she's waiting in a supermarket line; she'll say, 'Do you like the governor?' And they'll say, 'No, I don't like the governor.' 'Oh, here's the name of the Web site. Why don't you go there and sign a petition, and maybe you'll circulate it for us?' She's a dynamo. But she doesn't want her name publicized."
In fact, Matsumura claims that only five of his colleagues are willing to talk to the press. But thousands of signatures are arriving spontaneously, he says, as people download the petition from his Web site and hit up their friends. When asked to provide a few pages of signatures, Matsumura demurs. "I don't have them here," he says. "They go to quality control first, and then to data processing."
Who's doing the data processing?
"I have a volunteer who has some experience in this."
Yeah, but who?
"Well, there's a number of people."
How about a name?
"Well, I don't know that I can, really. You know, these are people that haven't consented to have their names printed in the paper. So a lot of people are in kind of a touchy situation. They're working, they're in a day job, they have a Republican boss."
This isn't the first miracle the doctor has set out to accomplish. Almost forty years ago, he decided to create a "bio-artificial liver," and his schematics made Time magazine's Best Inventions of 2001, but Matsumura has had a little trouble getting it to market -- it's been in clinical trials twenty years, he says. He promises to have it out soon. "It's saved many lives already," he insists.
Who has it saved?
"Patients who have hepatitis, for example."
Who's conducting the tests?
"Mmmm ... various groups around the world."
How 'bout a name?
"They don't publicize that, again. Because they don't want liver patients kind of swarming every center."
Matsumura also invented a bio-artificial pancreas, and even got the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to license his design for production in the 1980s. They were all set to build pancreas factories in outer space. "I was opposed to them going to outer space, because I thought that wasn't there yet," he says. "You remember in those days, they talked about factories in outer space? It was in vogue. NASA promoted it. ... That was where the factory was going to be -- part of the factory. ... It was going to be in orbit. We needed the zero gravity."
Unfortunately, the space shuttle Challenger blew up. "That kind of really slowed us down," Matsumura says with a sigh.
Among other accomplishments, Matsumura says he has developed a wristwatch that will warn the user of an impending heart attack. And in the late 1980s, his research led him to doubt that HIV causes AIDS. Lately, he's put aside the artificial liver and pancreas to focus on a new project. "I have, for example right now, an extremely, extremely valuable cancer drug that eliminates side effects of chemotherapy," he says, "So you can imagine how important that is. Four million people are dying every year. In other words, ten thousand people died yesterday. ... And I've got people who are asking me to push this thing through as fast as possible." In less than twelve months, Matsumura says, his biotech firm, the Alin Foundation, will upend the practice of chemotherapy, and millions of cancer patients will have a new set of choices: "I think we're probably going to be done with that project this year. We hope to begin to treat patients on a regular basis."
By the end of 2006, everyone will know the name Kenneth Matsumura. He will have revolutionized oncology. He will have driven the governor of the most populous state out of office through a decentralized campaign of media-shy citizens, flying under the radar of a mainstream press that mysteriously stopped paying attention. But for now, he's just a quiet, dapper man in an empty room.
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