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The first ad of the 2023 mayoral campaign is boosting Jeff Brown and features Michelle Obama

The ad, paid for by an independent political action committee, means the battle on the airwaves ahead of the May 2023 mayoral primary has already begun.

Jeff Brown announcing his run for mayor last month. A political action committee supporting the grocer ran the first ad of the 2023 mayoral campaign.
Jeff Brown announcing his run for mayor last month. A political action committee supporting the grocer ran the first ad of the 2023 mayoral campaign.Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer

It’s six months before the Philadelphia mayoral primary and ads have already hit the airwaves — but it’s not entirely clear who’s behind them.

A 30-second commercial promoting grocer Jeff Brown and featuring Michelle Obama began running Tuesday on cable television networks in the Philadelphia area.

It depicts the former first lady praising Brown and highlights his efforts to open ShopRites in neighborhoods without access to large grocery stores. It also includes an image of Brown with former President Barack Obama, touts that Brown has hired formerly incarcerated people to work in his stores, and shows footage from his campaign launch event last month in West Philadelphia.

But the ad wasn’t paid for by Brown’s campaign. The spots were purchased by the political action committee For a Better Philadelphia, and financial disclosures for the group weren’t available Tuesday.

» READ MORE: Who's running for Philadelphia mayor in 2023?

The group’s initial buy was $92,000, and the ads are scheduled to run for two weeks on a handful of cable networks, according to the media-tracking firm AdImpact. The Brown campaign said Tuesday morning was the first time it had seen the ad, which the campaign said “does a great job of capturing a lot of the work that Jeff has done.”

Earlier this year, financial disclosures showed that a super PAC with ties to Brown took in nearly a million dollars, mostly from large donations. Because the group was organized with the state, it was not subject to the city’s comparatively stringent campaign contribution limits.

Brown, who has never run for office before, is independently wealthy. He has said he plans to self-fund his campaign in part, and is also aggressively fund-raising.

And yes, it’s early. During the 2015 campaign, when Jim Kenney was first elected to the mayor’s office, the first television ad started running in March, just two months before the primary election. It was funded by labor groups.

Spending ahead of the 2007 mayoral race started much earlier. That race featured a handful of Democratic heavy-hitters, and ads began running on Dec. 7, 2006, when Tom Knox, a millionaire mayoral candidate, bought $700,000 in airtime. Knox spent nearly $10.6 million in total and came in second to Michael Nutter in the primary.

The 2023 mayoral race has been compared to the 2007 campaign, as it features a large field of serious contenders, several of whom are wealthy or have ties to deep-pocketed supporters. With as many as eight viable Democrats jockeying for the nomination, grabbing the attention of voters early could be critical to increasing name recognition, especially for candidates who have never campaigned citywide.

» READ MORE: With the midterms over, the 2023 Philadelphia mayoral race is shifting into high gear

The winner of the Democratic primary in May is well-positioned to prevail in the general election given Philadelphia’s heavily Democratic electorate.

The race is likely to draw a significant amount of outside spending. A group with ties to Gov. Tom Wolf is preparing to back former City Councilmember Cherelle Parker. And State Rep. Amen Brown, who is expected to launch his campaign Thursday, has the backing of a New York City real estate developer who has reportedly vowed to seed a super PAC with $5 million.

The only other notable ad buy thus far has been by Allan Domb, whose campaign has spent about $70,000 on radio advertising, according to AdImpact. Domb is a multimillionaire real estate magnate who has self-funded two campaigns for City Council and has largely not had to rely on outside spending.