The first broadcast ads from candidates in the notably quiet Philadelphia’s mayor’s race are on the air.
State Sen. Anthony Williams, who hopes to unseat Mayor Jim Kenney, is running radio commercials in which he attacks the city’s soda tax and promises to make the city cleaner and safer.
“We can get rid of the soda tax, and still keep pre-K for our children. We can clean our streets once a week, end stop-and-frisk, stop plans for a drug injection site, and declare a state of emergency against violence,” Williams says in a 30-second spot, adding, “from poverty to potholes, we can do better.”
The ads have run on WDAS, WRNB, KYW, WURD, PRAISE, and POWER 99, according to campaign spokeswoman Barbara Grant.
Shortages of campaign cash have limited what Williams and fellow challenger, former City Controller Alan Butkovitz, have been able to do in their communications efforts.
Both candidates had about $50,000 on hand as of April 1, the deadline for their most recent campaign finance reports.
Kenney had $655,000 on hand then. His campaign has posted internet ads, but hasn’t yet aired broadcast advertising.
Democratic strategist Mark Nevins said Williams and Butkovitz face a formidable task in trying to beat an incumbent mayor, and they will have to do what they can in a hurry.
“These challengers have a lot of ground to make up, so if they’re going to make their move, they need to do it quickly because they’re running out of time,” Nevins said in an interview.
While none of the three campaigns have yet waged television ad campaigns, two independent groups have invested more than $1 million in ad campaigns.
Philly 2019, a super PAC funded by Building Trades unions, has reported spending $448,000 in support of Kenney, while the American Beverage Association has spent $604,000 on ads attacking him for supporting a 1.5 cents-per-ounce soda tax.
Jordan Marks, a spokesman for the pro-Kenney super PAC, said a poll taken April 17-20 after substantial advertising efforts by Philly 2019 and the Beverage Association showed Kenney holding a commanding lead over his two Democratic rivals.
“We feel very good about where the race stands now,” Marks said.
The poll funded by the campaign and conducted by the Global Strategy Group found 52% of primary voters supporting or leaning toward Kenney; 19% supporting or leaning toward Williams, and 6% supporting or leaning toward Butkovitz.
Grant, meanwhile, said Williams feels the race turning his way.
“We feel we’re gaining momentum,” Grant said in an interview. “We’ve been on the air, and out in neighborhoods all over the city. People see him, and they want to help and support him.”
Political consultant Mustafa Rashed said whether the primary race becomes more competitive or not, there’s civic value in the campaign.
“It’s a way to have a conversation about some of the issues and challenges facing the city,” he said. “And I’d say we’re better off having that conversation, if we do it in a careful and thoughtful way.”