Two weeks before the May 19 Democratic primary, state Senator Anthony Williams has launched the first attack ad of the Philadelphia mayoral campaign. The target, to no one’s surprise, is former City Councilman Jim Kenney.
With the Baltimore riots a fresh memory and police community relations a topic of widespread concern, Williams’ ad recalls comments Kenney made in a 1997 Inquirer article when he was talking about about restrictions placed on police use of force.
In the ad, an announcer reads Kenney’s words: “We now have discussions, ironically, about no longer letting police officers use pepper gas. I mean, come on, you can’t use the flashlight, you can’t use the clubs on the head, you can’t shoot anybody. What’s next, are we going to hand them feather dusters?”
Kenney’s campaign said in a statement he’s long repudiated those remarks made nearly 20 years ago, and that he has a record of working to strengthen police-community relations and limit police force.The two candidates have been trading shots in public statements and press releases on similar issues. Williams, citing Kenney’s endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police, says Kenney’s been soft on banning hate speech among police officers. Kenney’s campaign has attacked Williams’ past votes for “castle doctrine” legislation, which permits wider use of firearms in self-defense.
Impact on the race
The ad likely reflects a concern among Williams’ strategists that Kenney is making headway among black voters, Williams core constituency. It’s a hard-hitting spot that addresses a hot-button issue. A key question is whether the Williams campaign has enough cash to buy the TV time needed to make a substantial impact on voters.
The Williams campaign’s last TV ad buy was around $65,000, a fairly modest purchase. American Cities, the super PAC funded by three wealthy suburban donors, on the other hand, has been spending more than $700,000 a week on ad buys, and if it were to put that kind of firepower behind attack ads, the effect would be formidable.
And it remains to be seen whether the Kenney campaign and the two union-backed super PACs supporting it will respond with attacks on Williams.