Mitchell aims his first salvo at school system's problems

The Baltimore Sun

Just as the hangover from last fall's gubernatorial television commercial bonanza was starting to wear off, Baltimore City Councilman and mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. aired the first television commercial of this year's mayoral race. The 30-second spot, which aired yesterday only, focuses entirely on schools.

What the ad says: Somber piano music plays in the background as the camera trains on a dark school hallway and an empty classroom. A female narrator says: "Friday is the last day of school. Too bad it isn't the last day of a broken school system. Too bad it isn't the last day of no accountability."

The narrator says that the system is failing students as the video cuts to a shot of City Hall. The narrator says other cities are improving schools by giving mayors more control. "It's time for a mayor who will take responsibility for our schools and rescue our kids," the narrator concludes. "This should be the last day we settle for the status quo."

The facts: Baltimore's graduation rate is ranked third worst among the nation's 50 biggest cities in a study released yesterday by Education Week, a national publication. In 2004, the publication said, Baltimore's graduation rate was 34.6 percent. City and state leaders dispute the publication's methodology and say 54.3 percent of students graduated in 2004.

Though many city schools underperform, it is not clear that giving the mayor greater control would help. Mayors in Chicago and New York have gained control of their city schools, and the results have been mixed. In that same Education Week study of graduation rates, New York was ranked fifth worst and Chicago was ranked 13th worst.

Analysis: Given that the ad was aired on only one day, and that it is the first of the campaign, it was probably intended to generate buzz - what political types call "free media" - rather than move voters toward Mitchell by itself. Even if that is the case, it is a strategy that lets people know Mitchell is serious about the campaign.

Curiously, though, Mitchell is absent from the ad. He is never shown. His name is never uttered by the narrator. The only way viewers know that he put on the ad is when his name is flashed on the screen for about three seconds at the end. In the gubernatorial campaign last year, early advertisements were introductory. In this case, Mitchell is launching directly into an issue and subtly attacking, without mentioning, his lead opponent, Mayor Sheila Dixon.

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