The Philadelphia mayoral campaign entered a combative and costly phase yesterday, as all five major candidates launched new television ads after a weekend debate peppered with attacks on the front-runner.
Two of the ads - from State Rep. Dwight Evans and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady - take aim at the leader in the polls, businessman Tom Knox, who is running as an outsider bent on stopping City Hall corruption.
Those messages, in turn, prompted the Knox campaign to cue up a counterattack in an ad saying his rivals "ought to be ashamed" of their last-minute tactics. That ad was due to start running today.
"We're prepared to answer any and all charges lobbed against us," said Josh Morrow, manager of the Knox campaign, which has spent $5 million on its own TV ads, far more than Knox's rivals.
Evans' 30-second ad, "Right Now," is the first in the May 15 Democratic primary race to criticize opponents by name. It says Knox "has no record fighting crime," and it quotes U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah as saying there is "nothing a mayor can do" to immediately reduce the homicide rate.
"Dwight Evans thinks a mayor has to do something," the ad says, citing reduced crime in his West Oak Lane legislative district and his proposal for 500 more police officers.
Brady's new ad, "Drive," features the congressman driving through the streets, talking about crime. He does not mention Knox's name but says, "We can't gamble our future anymore - we need experienced leadership," a clear reference to the neophyte candidate.
And former Councilman Michael Nutter had a busy day: He launched an ad, won an endorsement (from Philadelphia Magazine), and ratcheted up the rhetoric on the homicide rate, saying City Hall's bell should toll in mourning for the "black genocide" unfolding on the streets.
It was an arresting term in Nutter's pointed critique of anticrime measures by Mayor Street, who is African American. "Black genocide" has been used to describe, among other things, slavery and abortion. In polls, Nutter, who is black, has consistently received stronger support from white voters than African Americans.
In a news conference at City Hall, Nutter repeated a call he first made in October, saying Street should declare a crime emergency in order to give police greater leeway in high-crime areas.
Nutter called the 10 slayings in the city over the weekend "one of the worst human tragedies this city has ever seen." He added, "The bell should have been tolling at 12 o'clock for the black genocide that's taking place in this city."
Under current law, the mayor can declare a crime emergency in designated areas. Doing so would give the city the power to limit outdoor gatherings, impose a curfew, limit the movement of vehicles, and ban the carrying of weapons.
"The citizens of this city deserve better than to constantly live in fear," Nutter said. "The citizens of this city need to hear from their mayor."
Nutter, who was a strong critic of the mayor while on Council, has used Street as a foil in his advertising campaign, citing battles over ethics legislation and tax cuts.
The mayor's spokesman, Joe Grace, brushed aside Nutter's call for an emergency declaration as a political stunt.
Police "are not going to violate the constitutional rights of citizens by declaring a state of emergency in some neighborhoods but not in other neighborhoods," Grace said. He said Nutter was ignoring such administration steps as hiring 200 more officers, establishing 12 new after-school centers, and training 400 new truant officers.
In Nutter's new ad, the candidate speaks directly into the camera, saying he does "fight" a lot - but adds that he's waging a good battle for the future of the city. "If we don't change City Hall, we will lose a generation and maybe the city," Nutter says in the spot.
Fattah's new ad features former President Bill Clinton speaking of the congressman's "life passion" at a 1998 signing ceremony for a bill Fattah sponsored establishing the federal Gear Up program, which helps prepare low-income children for college. It says Fattah has spent "a lifetime fighting for all of us" against violence and for educational opportunity.
Fattah has seen his early lead in polls steadily dwindle, but his strategists vowed to stay positive and not join the "food fighting between campaigns," as Fattah adviser Rebecca Kirszner put it yesterday.
Kirszner said the quote from Fattah in Evans' ad was taken out of context from a forum, when Fattah was describing how complicated the problem of violence is.
For months, Knox had the airwaves to himself, but the spate of new ads signals the campaign is now fully engaged and reflects the reality that there is still a large enough pool of undecided voters to be won.
In a televised debate on 6ABC Sunday, Brady and Evans blasted Knox. Brady accused Knox of "ripping off working men and women" with predatory lending and deceptive insurance practices when he was in business.
Knox has acknowledged that he got out of the "payday loan" business in 2000 after his bank was harshly criticized by federal regulators.
The new ad from Knox's campaign tells of "politicians launching their last-minute attacks and smears" because they are afraid Knox "will end their no-bid contracts and no-show jobs."