Williams back on TV; Will his super PAC go negative?

    After having been off the air for two weeks, the mayoral campaign of Philadelphia State Senator Anthony Williams is up with a new TV ad (above). But the key question in the race is whether the richly-endowed super PAC boosting his candidacy is prepared to go negative. More on that shortly.

    In the new 30-second spot done by  Williams’ campaign (as opposed to his super PAC), the candidate speaks directly into the camera about his hopes for his grandson. He talks about having a city with great neighborhood schools, a police force that protects and doesn’t abuse its citizens, and opportunities for a job and career. The text on screen says “$15 minimum wage” and “Paid sick leave.”

    A source familiar with political ad placements tells me the campaign has bought around $65,000 worth of TV time to run the ad through next Thursday. That’s a pretty modest placement. By contrast, the super PAC him is now spending over $700,000 a week on its TV buys.

    Super PAC’s, you’ll recall, can raise and spend unlimited sums, while the candidates’ themselves are bound by city contribution limits. In this campaign, the candidates have struggled to raise money, and super PAC’s account for most of the spending.

    Money talks -what will it say?

    My source tells me that American Cities, the super PAC funded by three wealthy suburban supporters of Williams, has made its ad placements for the remainder of the campaign. The committee’s total spending on broadcast and cable TV for the campaign will exceed $4.6 million.

    American Cities has also spent around $150,000 on radio ads.

    But perhaps the most striking feature of the advertising in the mayor’s race so far has been the absence of negative ads – not a single one that I know of.

    If you believe the Kenny-backed polls that show him leading the race, conventional wisdom holds that he’ll come under attack at some point.

    But there are only 18 days left, and from the numbers, it doesn’t appear Williams’ campaign itself has the money to do much damage to Kenney. Lynne Abraham’s campaign also has an incentive to attack, but it’s now spending money on a positive ad for its candidate, leaving limited cash for a negative ad campaign.

    That leaves the big dog – American Cities, the pro-Williams super PAC, which clearly has the firepower to launch a shock-and-awe campaign against Kenney if it chooses to.

    So here’s the question: Do the three men funding the committee, who’ve shown a real sensitivity to attacks on their motives and reputation, want to be the ones who start throwing punches?

    They can’t talk to the Williams campaign about it, so it’s up to them. We’ll see.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.