Pro-Tony Williams Group Drops $500K Bomb on the Mayor’s Race

An independent organization is behind a new, pricey ad campaign. It's a big boost for the candidate.

An independent group backed by three multimillionaires has kicked off a much-anticipated TV ad campaign supporting state Sen. Anthony Williams for mayor.

American Cities, a committee that has received donations from the principals of the Montgomery County-based Susquehanna International Group, began airing a 30-second spot Friday.

A source familiar with the ad buy says it is worth a whopping $500,000-plus. The commercial will air on 6ABC, NBC10, Fox29, CBS3 and cable channels, the source tells us.

A few thoughts:

  • This is a hefty ad purchase, and it could make a big difference in Williams’ campaign. He needs it. As a state senator, Williams represents a relatively small part of the city, and he doesn’t appear to have stellar name recognition outside of it. To wit: According to a poll commissioned by mayoral candidate and former District Attorney Lynne Abraham‘s campaign, only 14 percent of respondents would vote for Williams if the Democratic primary were held today. Thirty percent said they would vote for Abraham.
  • As expected, independent groups are already a major force in the mayor’s race, and are in some ways eclipsing the mayoral campaigns themselves. Just think: American Cities’ ad blitz is worth more than $500,000, while Williams’ campaign had nearly $426,000 in the bank at the end of 2014, according to campaign finance records. Also, the first TV ad of this election season was aired not by a mayoral campaign, but by an independent group that supports former City Councilman Jim Kenney.
  • So far, all the TV ads in the mayor’s race are positive. The American Cities ad that hit the airwaves Friday is a standard introduction to Williams, with the narrator highlighting his father, the trailblazing Hardy Williams, as well as his plan to “create a city of opportunity for everyone, no matter who you are or where you’re from.” An ad funded by the Williams campaign that started airing this week also touches on his legislative record and father, “who was told an African-American couldn’t run for mayor, and said, ‘Why not?'” Two independent groups backing Kenney have paid for positive spots as well. Surely, the sunshine and roses won’t last forever. When will the first negative spot hit?

Mayoral candidates are bound by strict city campaign finance limits, which cap annual donations at $2,900 from individuals and $11,500 from political committees and unincorporated business organizations. Independent groups such as American Cities, though, can spend unlimited amounts in the mayor’s race as long as they do not coordinate with campaigns.