San Francisco mayoral candidates aim for TV's prime time 

click to enlarge Negative outlook: State Sen. Leland Yee’s campaign recently spent at least $75,000 to attack Mayor Ed Lee on television. (Courtesy photo) - NEGATIVE OUTLOOK: STATE SEN. LELAND YEE’S CAMPAIGN RECENTLY SPENT AT LEAST $75,000 TO ATTACK MAYOR ED LEE ON TELEVISION. (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • Negative outlook: State Sen. Leland Yee’s campaign recently spent at least $75,000 to attack Mayor Ed Lee on television. (Courtesy photo)
  • Negative outlook: State Sen. Leland Yee’s campaign recently spent at least $75,000 to attack Mayor Ed Lee on television. (Courtesy photo)

Despite herculean efforts to reach the public through debates, door knocking, mailers and email blasts, the first thing many voters will hear about this year’s mayoral candidates will come from an ad on TV.

With the election less than two months away, most candidates are trying to solidify their TV strategies — if they can afford one. Since most major candidates — Mayor Ed Lee being a notable exception — are accepting public financing, they must abide by a $1.5 million spending limit. This is the first mayoral race in which public financing is a factor.

Before public financing became reality, former Mayor Gavin Newsom spent more than $5 million on his 2003 campaign, which featured a TV ad series of personal testimonials called “The Newsom I Know.”

Jim Ross, a local political consultant who was Newsom’s campaign manager at the time, estimated that about $650,000 was spent on TV ads. Add that to more than $1 million spent on Newsom’s field campaign, and the 2011 candidates would be in debt before any direct mail was sent or the headquarters rent was paid.

So will there be fewer political ads on TV this election season? It’s hard to say. Ross said even if Newsom had been limited to the spending cap, a good chunk of the total campaign funds would still have gone to TV.

“The best way to get most known by the most people is television,” Ross said.

Although most campaigns are being tight-lipped about TV strategies, Bevan Dufty bought a chunk of time through Comcast, based on documents from the cable provider’s public database. Tony Hall, meanwhile, has been airing ads since July blasting wasteful spending at City Hall.

Public campaign financing also means that next incendiary attack ad, whether you agree with it or not, was paid for with public money.

State Sen. Leland Yee’s campaign recently spent at least $75,000 to run a weeklong TV spot attacking Mayor Ed Lee for going back on his initial promise not to seek permanent office when he was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in January. The ad, a slight modification of a YouTube video put out in July, argues that Lee is unable to resist influence from powerful interests, such as Chinatown power broker Rose Pak.

Tony Winnicker, Lee’s campaign manager, called the ad a “desperate move” harkening back to “the same recycled attacks we’ve been seeing for more than a month.”

Yee’s campaign manager, Jim Stearns, took issue with the idea that the ad is negative.

“For us, it’s not so much that he broke a promise, but why did he break the promise and who convinced him to break the promise,” Stearns said. “We’re only using the actual facts and statements from Ed Lee himself.”

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

Screen time

In 2003, Gavin Newsom spent five times more than what’s available to this year’s mayoral candidates.

$1.475 million Spending limit for individual candidates under public financing
$8.1 million Public funds expected to be spent on campaigns
$5.7 million Record-breaking campaign spending by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2003

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Dan Schreiber

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