Cranley's Money Dominating TV Air Waves In Mayor's Race
Aside from the televised (and non-televised) debates, the May 2 primary for Cincinnati mayor is being waged in advertising, and lots of it.
There was a time when that meant principally broadcast TV advertising, but those days are long gone.
Now, candidates are spreading their message with strategically placed YouTube videos, and paid advertisements on social media sites.
If you are in or near Cincinnati, you have probably seen mayoral race ads – particularly for incumbent John Cranley – pop up multiple times daily.
This all costs money, with broadcast TV still sucking the bulk of the campaign dollars.
Cranley is clearly the candidate with the deepest pockets when it comes to campaign money.
Through the end of 2016, Cranley had raised $964,000, compared to $152,000 for Council Member Yvette Simpson. Rob Richardson's campaign did not start until January 3, so there is no report yet on how much he has raised.
Most people in Cincinnati politics are working under the assumption that Cranley will be one of the two candidates who emerge from the May 2 primary. He and the second-place finisher will face each other in the fall.
Cranley's people have said that the incumbent expects to raise an estimated $2.4 million to $2.6 million through the fall campaign – which would shatter all records for campaign spending in Cincinnati municipal elections.
And there are those who believe he may spend nearly $1 million in the primary.
Simpson's campaign press secretary, Chaka Buraimoh, told WVXU that the Simpson campaign won't be doing any TV advertising, because there simply is not enough money.
Instead, Buraimoh said Simpson will run ads on commercial radio stations and have a heavy presence in social media advertising, along with targeted direct mail pieces.
But no TV.
So far, the incumbent has been the most active spender when it comes to TV ads. One is positive; the other jabs at Simpson.
Cranley pounced on Simpson the night of March 28, when the three candidates met in a debate in Bond Hill sponsored by the NAACP and the Prince Hall Masons.
Moderator Richard Chiles asked the candidates to list their three top budget priorities. Simpson's answer was quick and simple – recreation centers, swimming pools and city health clinics.
She argued that all three can play a role in reducing crime on the streets – kids who are enjoying activities in a neighborhood rec center or swimming at the local pool, aren't going to be on the streets where they could get in trouble.
Cranley pounced on her answer.
"I want to thank Mr. Richardson for mentioning public safety as a priority when Ms. Simpson did not,'' said Cranley, adding that he believes public safety is the number one priority when it comes to budgeting the city's resources.
Simpson argues that violence "is a public health issue."
"Violence plagues too many of our communities,'' Simpson said. "Cincinnati's crime rate has been stuck in a yo-yo for years. To have a real impact on crime, we must do things differently. We must address the root causes of violence."
The Cranley campaign's 30-second campaign ad, called "Priorities," starts out with a black-and-white image of a grim-looking Simpson, saying she "voted against putting more cops on the street." The small print cites a 2014 council vote.
That's followed by another black-and-white photo of a Cincinnati streetcar, with a graphic on the screen saying, "Simpson supports $100 million to expand the streetcar."
Then, another grim-looking shot of Simpson, with this voice-over: "Funding streetcars before safety? That may be Yvette Simpson's priority, but it's not ours."
At that point, the black-and-white images suddenly end; the screen is full of bright color and there is the mayor, in an open-collared shirt, sitting in his living room, explaining his priority.
"Making the city safe is always the number one priority,'' Cranley says. And this: "We've put more cops on the streets,'' complete with an image of the mayor with Police Chief Elliot Isaac at his side, in full police uniform.
And we see a nice little image of him walking down a street, talking with Council Member Christopher Smitherman, the independent council member who chairs council's Law and Public Safety Committee and a reliable cheerleader for Cranley on city council.
The "Priorities" ad is a fabrication and a twisting of facts, according to the Simpson campaign.
"Mayor Cranley's attack against me is very misleading,'' Simpson said in a statement issued by her campaign. "I voted 'Yes' for every police recruit class in this administration."
The Simpson statement cites council votes in 2014 and 2016 to prove her point – votes to accept federal Community Oriented Policing funds to increase the number of new cops hired by the city.
"John is also referencing my vote against the 2014 budget in his attack ad, but I did not vote against police and fire,'' Simpson told WXVU in the written statement. "I've included a link to my Op-Ed addressing my rationale for voting against the proposed budget that year."
Cranley's TV ad campaign is by no means made up of nothing but attacks on his opponents.
In fact, in his first 30-second broadcast ad, he had a rather cheery ad that was almost Reagan-like in its optimism.
It’s a new day in Cincinnati, Cranley says to open the ad.
"We have less poverty, more businesses opening up,'' Cranley says. "I am proud that we have kept our promises."
Again, there is an image of Cranley with the police chief, in uniform, as the mayor says "we are putting more cops on the street."
"We're investing in job training to help more people move into the middle class,'' Cranley says.
And there are images of him at home, sitting on the couch with his wife Dena, and his young son, Joseph. And images of the mayor and Joseph tossing a football in the front yard and dueling with plastic light sabers.
"This city has given much to my family, my son,'' Cranley says. "Things are moving in the right direction. But there is even more to do."
All very positive. No mention of Simpson or Rob Richardson.
And what of Richardson, the 38-year-old labor lawyer and former University of Cincinnati trustee who is making his first run for public office?
He has a 30-second ad that began running on digital platforms last week and is scheduled to begin on broadcast television this week.
It's an ad that is supposed to hit hard with people, showing images of young children – including Richardson's own adopted son – saying things that you might hear come out of the mouths of adult Cincinnatians every day about the state of the city.
In rapid succession, the kids say thing like this: Why are my kids being told they can't go to college? I used to live in this neighborhood, but now I can't afford it. I'm tired of being seen as a criminal. When am I going to feel safe? Why are we still arguing about the streetcar?"
Then Richardson appears on the screen, looking straight into the camera.
"When are we going to start listening?,'' Richardson says. "Let's start focusing on the future, so that in 20 years, we're not asking the same questions."
In other words, we can't let out children inherit the problems the city faces today.
It's hard to tell if Richardson, who didn't get into the race until early January, will have the financial resources to do any more TV advertising between now and the May 2 primary.
But his campaign manager, Daniel O'Connor, said that while he would not say how much the Richardson campaign will be spending on TV ads, "we are confident this buy will be substantial enough to give us a great deal of visibility and exposure in the home stretch of the primary campaign."
Obviously, Cranley is going to outspend his opponents, by a long shot.
Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University, said he is not at all sure how effective broadcast TV ads are in an age where people's viewing habits have changed and people go first to the internet.
"A lot of people have cut the cord on TV, except for Netflix and things like that,'' Mariani said.
All three of the candidates will use online advertising, popping up with paid ads on social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instragram.
"But a lot of that gets lost in the clutter too,'' Mariani said. "There' just too much information there. Do people really click on the campaign ads on Facebook and watch them straight through? I doubt that many do."
Money does not necessarily buy happiness in elections, particularly local elections.
David Pepper set a record for spending in a mayor's race when he spent $1.2 million in his 2005 race against fellow Democrat Mark Mallory, who spent only a small fraction of that.
But Mallory won the race – mainly because he had a very simple message that he managed to reach voters with - that he was not a City Hall insider and that only he could do away with the "chaos" at City Hall.
Money is not everything, Mariani said, "but clearly it is Cranley's race to lose. He has the advantage. It's not so much about how much Cranley spends, it's about how much the other two can spend."
The answer is simple: Not nearly as much as Cranley.