Baltimore's election season takes to the airwaves today, when Mayor Martin O'Malley's first two campaign commercials portray the heavily favored incumbent as a regular guy and a stately politician.
In the first 30-second spot, O'Malley, wearing a hard hat and wielding a hammer, is helping to rebuild a vacant house. In the other, he is striking poses of a distinguished, suit-wearing leader whose political priorities seek to protect Baltimore from terrorism.
Political commercials are one of the most costly, and effective, items in any campaign. They project what accomplishments matter most to a candidate, and they preview what direction an incumbent intends to lead the city if re-elected.
O'Malley does not speak in either ad, produced by Dixon/Davis Media Group of Washington. Instead, staged action such as O'Malley pounding a nail or orchestrating emergency workers is set to voice-over narration reciting his accomplishments and leadership traits.
"The foundation of our city's comeback begins with public safety and a commitment to make every neighborhood an even safer place to call home," the narrator states. The second ad begins by describing O'Malley as "a leader, preparing Baltimore for homeland security and emergency preparedness."
Both sign off with O'Malley's slogan: "Because better isn't good enough." The cost to place the 30-second ads could range from $50 to $3,800. Each is expected to air five or six times per week - or more, said Kimberlin Love, the campaign's spokeswoman.
O'Malley's campaign intends to roll out a series of commercials, some of which will not feature the mayor so prominently and others that will show him speaking. Campaign officials said they had not determined how many commercials would be produced before the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.
Such an extensive ad buy may appear as overkill for an incumbent who most political experts say holds a wide lead over his competitors. But O'Malley said yesterday that he won't be complacent.
"You have to run the ads," he said. "Elections are when we pause to consider if things are getting better and whether we're heading down the path that restores hope ... It's a very important factor in a Democracy."
Another important factor is money. His near $3 million campaign treasury far surpasses all of his competitors. Andrey Bundley, O'Malley's chief rival and principal of Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy, recently released an Aug. 5 report showing his campaign has a $23,033 balance.
"Essentially, we're broke," Bundley said. "We don't have the money to run TV ads. We're not trying to buy the vote."
Bundley, who will debate O'Malley Friday, called the commercials' claims of reducing crime "disingenuous."
The Friends of O'Malley campaign did not release figures on how much the commercials cost to produce, but political experts said such commercials typically range between $12,000 and $18,000, and sometimes far more.
"The real costs are in the 'buy,'" said Arthur W. Murphy, a political consultant with Politicom Creative, referring to the price paid to stations for running the ads. "Running early morning ads is cheaper because fewer people watch TV at that time."
Rates can range anywhere from $50 for a 30-second spot on a local morning news program to $3,800 for a fixed spot during a popular national show such as Friends. Campaign finance records from 1999 show that O'Malley paid $93,222 to the same production firm, listed as Dixon Media Group at the time, for radio, television, newspaper and billboard ads.
Each of the two commercials makes several claims. The first commercial, which O'Malley said was staged, portrays the mayor at a construction site.
It makes three claims:
"Baltimore is leading the nation in the reduction of violent crime."
This has become the O'Malley mantra. Reducing crime was his 1999 campaign's No. 1 priority.
The city has reduced the incidence of serious crimes by 25.98 percent over the past three years, best in the nation. Still, last year, the city ranked No. 2 among the country's 25 largest cities in the rate of violent crimes per 100,000. That was an improvement from 2001, when the city had the worst per capita crime rate for homicides, aggravated assaults, rapes and robberies, according to FBI data.
"We're freeing our communities of drug use with new substance abuse facilities."
Since O'Malley took office, the city has opened five large-scale drug treatment centers. One residential treatment center, Gaudenzia Inc., is the first to be built in the city in 30 years, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city's health commissioner. For all the progress, Baltimore continues to have one of the worst drug problems in the nation.
"And reclaiming thousands of vacant properties."
The mayor launched Project 5000 to acquire or clear title for 5,000 vacant or abandoned homes. To date, the city has attained 2,115 homes. Vacant and boarded houses, however, remain one of the most hotly contested issues throughout all city campaigns this year.
The second commercial shows O'Malley posing in still photographs with Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark and Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. The narrator states that O'Malley has been committed to fighting terrorism and to making the city "an even safer place to call home." Throughout the year, O'Malley raised his national profile as a leading critic of President Bush's funding to cities for homeland security.
The ad's one claim states:
"Delivering millions to safeguard our city with new emergency personnel and first responders."
In December 2001, the federal government awarded Baltimore a $21 million grant to put 200 officers on the street, according to city officials. The city has also received nearly $4 million from state and federal grants used to offset local homeland security needs, city records show. Last week, the Board of Estimates approved a $906,173 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office for Domestic Preparedness.
But the mayor's opponent says he is not swayed by the homeland security ads. Bundley said any mayor would have adopted the same priorities to prepare the city after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"He should have been the first responder for speaking up for those children who were drinking lead in the schools for 10 years," Bundley said. "The first order of homeland security is to protect the children."
Mayor Martin O'Malley's re-election campaign unveils its first two commercials today. The first shows O'Malley at the construction site of a vacant house. The second shows O'Malley in a number of decisive situations, some in still photographs and others during staged action. The following is a transcript of each commercial, both of which are set to piano music:
Commercial one, titled "The Foundation of Baltimore's Comeback":
"The foundation of our city's comeback begins with public safety and a commitment to make every neighborhood an even safer place to call home.
"Baltimore is leading the nation in reduction of violent crime.
"We're freeing our communities of drug use with new substance abuse facilities. And reclaiming thousands of vacant properties.
"But Martin O'Malley knows even with a strong foundation there is still more to do. Because better isn't good enough."
Commercial two, titled "Homeland Security":
"A leader, preparing Baltimore for homeland security and emergency preparedness.
"The energy - to put Baltimore first.
"Delivering millions to safeguard our city with new emergency personnel and first responders.
"The commitment to fight terrorism and make our city an even safer place to call home.
"Our future, Mayor Martin O'Malley. Because better isn't good enough."