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Talking baby TV ad funded by development interests to promote four Council at-large candidates

A new pro-developer independent expenditure PAC is running an estimated $200,000 ad campaign to back four Democrats running for Philadelphia City Council at-large.

A screenshot of an ad funded by Philly for Growth, a new political action committee backing four Democratic Council candidates this year.
A screenshot of an ad funded by Philly for Growth, a new political action committee backing four Democratic Council candidates this year.Read moreHandout (custom credit)

A new political action committee is getting into the Philadelphia City Council race in the final days, airing TV commercials for four candidates it views as pro-business.

Philly for Growth, established at the end of April, is chaired by Leo Addimando, a real estate developer and vice president of the city’s Building Industries Association. The group is supporting Democratic Council at-large candidates Eryn Santamoor and Katherine Gilmore Richardson, and incumbents Derek S. Green and Allan Domb.

A TV ad featuring a talking baby will first air Sunday and run through the election on broadcast and cable outlets, said Aren Platt, a political consultant working with the group. The exposure could make a difference in a field of 28 Democrats vying for five seats on May 21.

Platt wouldn’t disclose the ad buy, but its scope is likely at least $200,000, big enough to potentially shake up the race, according to several campaign consultants.

In the ad, a baby holding an oversize teddy bear is dubbed with the voice of a high-pitched woman.

“Check this jawn out," the baby says, before the camera zooms in on a primary ballot. “You’ve got to vote for the team that will grow Philly with us. Santamoor, Domb, Richardson, Green," the baby says in a singsong lilt, "Santamoor, Domb, Richardson, Green.”

The names of donors were disclosed Friday in a campaign finance report showing $190,000 in the PAC’s account, which includes $50,000 from OCF Realty, based in Point Breeze, $30,000 from the General Building Contractors Association, and $10,000 from the Steamfitters union. The PAC’s treasurer is Gary A. Jonas Jr. of the HOW Group, a development firm based in Conshohocken that does business in Philadelphia and which gave $10,000.

The president of OCF Realty, developer Ori Feibush, ran for Council four years ago against 2nd District incumbent Kenyatta Johnson, with whom he has clashed over development issues in rapidly growing Southwest Philadelphia.

The PAC says it does not have an affiliated nonprofit, so all contributions over $250 will continue to be reported per campaign finance rules. Another PAC, Philadelphia 3.0, has received criticism for legally coordinating with a nonprofit in order to conceal the source of some of its money.

Addimando said he and other contributors thought the four candidates were “best suited to equitably grow opportunities in every part of the city.”

“City Council has taken a distinctly business-unfriendly tone over the past, let’s say, generation,” Addimando said. “It’s gotten consistently more expensive to do business in the city of Philadelphia. It’s become more bureaucratic, and we believe what’s good for business is genuinely good for the city. What underlies the poverty of the city, which is our greatest problem, is a lack of ... quality jobs that can sustain families.”

How business-friendly are the candidates? Domb, known as the “condo king,” owns a ton of real estate in Philadelphia. None of the others have such a direct tie, but they have pro-development stands on some issues. All four told The Inquirer they oppose a tax on new construction and want to reform the 10-year property tax abatement instead of abolishing it or keeping it the same. But all four also said they support the so-called soda tax.

In a race where gentrification and Council’s relationships with developers and development have become issues, two of the most influential PACs have pro-development interests (Philadelphia 3.0 was founded partly by parking garage magnates Joseph and Robert Zuritsky). Philadelphia 3.0 has focused largely on the 3rd District race between incumbent Jannie Blackwell and challenger Jamie Gauthier.

Addimando pointed out that money from all sorts of sources flows into politics — labor, education, the beverage industry. “It’s unfair to single out 3.0 or real estate development as being particularly influential,” he said. “It’s a free country and we have the ability as citizens to make contributions.”

Domb has already spent close to $1 million on television and radio. Santamoor, Justin DiBerardinis, and Councilwoman Helen Gym have also bought ads that have or will soon air.

Independent expenditures have dominated spending this primary season, putting more into the mayor’s race than all three candidates combined.

Staff writers Chris Brennan and Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.