The television air war is heating up in Boston’s wide-open race for mayor, as candidates jockey to distinguish themselves in the crowded field with just five weeks until the preliminary election.
One television advertisement features Councilor Rob Consalvo shooting baskets in a Celtics jersey before a crowd at a local park. Councilor at Large John R. Connolly released a 30-second spot Tuesday that praises his 2011 crusade in which he discovered expired food being served in school cafeterias.
Boston firefighters have been shopping for tens of thousands of dollars in air time to run commercials promoting the candidacy of state Representative Martin J. Walsh. The education group Stand for Children may spend upward of $500,000 backing Connolly, with some money paying for commercials.
Just wait until the mayor’s race hits the frantic final stretch after Labor Day.
Former health care executive Bill Walczak has a commercial poised to air early next month. Walsh is saving his large campaign war chest for the September sprint. So is Councilor Michael P. Ross, whose campaign just spent $350,000 to reserve air time for commercials the two weeks before the Sept. 24 preliminary election.
“We’re not interested in spending now,” said Ross’s spokesman, Joshua Gee. “We’re investing in full saturation when we know people are paying attention.”
Other campaigns have eschewed the conventional wisdom that voters ignore campaigns during summer. Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has substantially more money than any other candidate and used it to launch the campaign’s first commercials in mid-July.
“We went up first because we wanted to talk about issues,” said Conley’s spokesman, Michael Sherry. “And we had the resources to do it.”
Consalvo began airing his basketball-themed spot last week. The 30-second commercial was taped on a court at Iacono Playground in Hyde Park as the candidate talked about his work to reduce gun violence and force banks to take care of foreclosed properties. Consalvo’s campaign also rejected the suggestion that voters have not started paying attention.
“People are very interested in the race,” said Consalvo’s spokesman, Kevin Franck. “In a few weeks when several candidates have ads on TV and radio, we think our ads will stand out better.”
Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo launched a modest ad buy in July on Spanish-
language networks Telemundo and Univision. Still, Arroyo’s campaign is banking on its field operation much more than paid media, according to campaign manager Clare Kelly.
“Talking to someone at their doorstep about the future of the city is much more likely to sway a voter, as opposed to a television commercial,” Kelly said.
There is a question about how much television ads will matter in a campaign that has a dozen candidates fighting house by house for supporters. After the preliminary election in September, two candidates will advance to the final election on Nov. 5.
Some analysts argue that commercials on major networks are needlessly broad, reaching viewers outside Boston in a broadcast market that extends to southern New Hampshire, Worcester, and Cape Cod. Advertising on cable can be more targeted, but the audience is splintered among hundreds of channels.
“I don’t believe that TV is going to make much of a difference at all in this race,” said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University, who noted that repetition is a key to successful advertising. “The commercials just aren’t going to be seen enough.”
But that will not stop several million dollars in political advertising in coming weeks.
Like most campaigns, Connolly’s representatives would not say how much they planned to spend on the commercial that began airing Tuesday. The 30-second spot focused on Connolly’s surprise March 2011 visit to four school cafeterias when he discovered out-of-date food in freezers. Schools officials ultimately ousted the longtime director of food and nutrition services after finding 280 cases of old food in 40 cafeterias.
Boston Firefighters Local 718 has been looking at commercials to run on behalf of Walsh, but it has not yet purchased air time, according to union president Richard Paris. A document on file with the Federal Communications Commission shows a detailed plan for 30 television spots in September on WHDH-TV (Channel 7) that would cost $34,500.
Local 718 and its political action committee have already donated the maximum $15,500 to Walsh’s campaign. Like other groups, a union can run advertisements for a candidate as long as it is not coordinated with the campaign.
A Walsh spokeswoman said the campaign had no knowledge of Local 718’s advertising plans.
“We’re looking to spend money to help get Marty elected,” Paris said.
Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.