Unconventional ads

March 12, 2007

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Both Pittsburgh mayoral campaigns have something to be miffed about today.

Councilman William Peduto's team, knocking on doors in Brookline Saturday, noticed that fresh, new mailings advertising Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's 311 help line were just arriving in mailboxes in that neighborhood. Prominently featuring a photo of the mayor, the 8 1/2" by 5 1/2" cards purport to "introduce" the 311 line -- a service that has been up and running since late October. The mailings are hitting closer to the election than to the roll-out of the program.

Over at the mayor's HQ, they're mulling the import of an anonymous 36-second video on YouTube that urges Pittsburgh to elect "a mayor, not a minor" and specifically touts Mr. Peduto. In a sense, it's the first ad of the political season, and it's at least somewhat negative. Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign manager is calling it a "cheap shot" and Mr. Peduto's campaign denies any knowledge of the authorship of, or involvement with the posting of, the ad.

More on creative campaigning in tomorrow's Post-Gazette.

Mr. Peduto's team is renewing its call for debates today, now saying it has told four television stations that it will "bend over backward" in the words of campaign manager Matt Merriman-Preston, to participate in six televised head-to-heads. Mr. Ravenstahl's campaign manager, Damon Andrews, said he's "beginning the negotiations for the televised debates" with the TV stations that have expressed interest, and added that the mayor "will do at least five" leading in to the May 15 primary.

State reforms

While city government contends with anonymous ads, the state is aiming to elevate the political debate.

The main business for the state House of Representatives today will be discussion, and hopefully a vote, on new "reform" rules to open up the way the House does its business, such as preventing "gut and run" tactics, meaning removing all the language from a bill and substituting entirely different language just before a vote is held, and by preventing votes from after 11 p.m. when few voters are paying attention.

But don't think that's all the House is scheduled to do. There are votes on a few resolutions, which are lesser items than actual bills, that may be of interest.

One is to congratulate the American Cancer Society for its work into research on cancer by declaring the week of March 19 - 25 as Daffodil Days Awareness Week. The society sells daffodils to raise research funds.

Another resolution would designate this week as Weather Emergency Preparedness Week in Pennsylvania. Let's hope they tell the Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, which wasn't prepared for the Valentine's Day ice storm and botched the response, leaving hundreds of motorists stranded for hours on Interstate 78 and other highways.

And there's also a resolution designating the entire month of March as Ethics Awareness Month. Let's hope they mean what they say and will adopt the rules requiring more openness in government so people have a better chance of knowing what's going on.

Party favors

On the national level, a hot issue is spending by political parties.

According to CQPolitics.com, national party spending would have been "superfluous" in the Pennsylvania Senate race last year because then-Treasurer Bob Casey had such commanding leads in the polls over then-Sen. Rick Santorum. The two candidates still managed to spend plenty of money on their own -- more than $33 million -- but the campaign arms of the national Democratic and Republican parties focused their own resources on more competitive races. CQPolitics.com has a new detailed breakdown of the spending on senate races nationwide.

From the article:

"Using candidate spending as the sole criterion for determining the most expensive Senate contest of the 2005-06 campaign cycle, that distinction would go to Pennsylvania, where Democratic state Treasurer Bob Casey easily defeated Republican Sen. Rick Santorum. Casey reported spending $17.6 million, which was plenty to compete with Santorum's $25.8 million.

But if you account for the coordinated and independent spending from the political parties, the most expensive Senate race was not in Pennsylvania but in Missouri, where Democratic state Auditor Claire McCaskill narrowly defeated Republican Sen. Jim Talent.

In that contest, the cumulative spending by the candidates and the parties came to $47.2 million, or just ahead of Pennsylvania's $46.5 million. Missouri's edge over Pennsylvania is even more lopsided on a per-capita basis because it has less than half the population of Pennsylvania.

In Missouri, the political parties reported $19.8 million in independent expenditures - of which $10 million was spent in support of Talent or in opposition to McCaskill, and $9.8 million was spent in support of McCaskill or in opposition to Talent. The two parties also nearly evenly divided $1.4 million in coordinated expenditures that they made in concert with McCaskill and Talent.

The $19.8 million in party independent expenditures in Missouri was not far off the $26 million that McCaskill and Talent spent from their own campaign accounts.

In Pennsylvania, by contrast, the political parties did not wage independent expenditure campaigns. Santorum and Casey had plenty of money already, and party involvement seemed superfluous in a contest in which Casey regularly polled well ahead of Santorum. Casey ended up winning by 59 percent to 41 percent, the biggest blowout in any of the Democratic Party's Senate takeovers."

City politics getting still greener

Back in the city, Patrick Dowd's campaign to unseat City Councilman Len Bodack continues to make noise. The school board member is touting the endorsement he got from the Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania Action Fund.

On Friday, he released a three-part plan for "greening up" the city. It includes hiring a "director of sustainability," who would be "a senior level directorship within city government that works with City Council Members and the Mayor's office to develop and implement a citywide plan for 'greening up' Pittsburgh. That director would work to develop a "green building code" and educate residents about things like upgrading the energy efficiency of their homes and minimizing indoor toxins. It mentions Philadelphia's "Next Great City" project, for example (www.nextgreatcity.com) as a model.

In addition to Mr. Bodack, who won the Allegheny County Democratic Committee endorsement, Mr. Dowd faces Tom Fallon, formerly a staffer to state Sen. Jim Ferlo.

With Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Peduto also battling over who's greener (the Sierra Club endorsed the councilman), it'll be interesting to see how environmentalism resonates in the formerly smoky city this election cycle.



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