Mitchell opts for negative

campaign ad watch

August 20, 2007|By John Fritze

City Councilman and mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. unveiled a new television commercial yesterday focusing not just on crime but on Mayor Sheila Dixon's response to it. The 30-second spot - the most negative Mitchell has aired so far - is the fourth of his campaign and the sixth overall in this year's election.

What the ad says: A man is seen approaching a car with a gun. In the next scene, a gun is being held to someone's head. Mitchell says: "There's a murder crisis in Baltimore. It's spreading. No wonder. The new mayor didn't add a single additional police officer to her budget. Not one." Dixon is seen speaking at a news conference. And then Mitchell appears and states his campaign pledge to hire 400 more police officers and serve outstanding warrants. As viewers are again shown Dixon speaking, Mitchell is heard saying: "The mayor says we can't afford more police. At the same time, she wastes millions on no-bid contracts and pay raises. It's time for a change."

The facts: It is true that the city has experienced a spike in homicides. When the entire year's homicides are considered, Baltimore is on pace to exceed 300 slayings for the first time since 1999. Mitchell continues to claim that the killings are "spreading," but that is questionable. In some police districts, homicides are up. In others, they are down or about the same as last year. No one has done a comprehensive study of the geography of this year's killings.

It is technically accurate that there were no new positions added to the Police Department - and that there was a reduction - but that belies the reality of how the budget works. The positions that were cut from the department were vacant. About 140 police positions already paid for in the budget are also vacant, meaning that increasing the number of positions in the budget would not address the staffing shortage. The problem with police staffing, as Mitchell has often said himself, has been recruitment and retention of officers, not the money available in the budget.

Finally, the ad says "millions" have been spent on no-bid contracts and pay raises. To back that up, the campaign notes a series of articles in The Sun documenting how the City Council president's office, under Dixon, paid her former campaign chairman $500,000 to perform city work without a contract. The campaign also points to a Sun article that showed how Dixon had increased the payroll in the mayor's office by about $640,000 a year. The campaign multiplies $640,000 by a four-year term to reach the "millions" mark. The problem with that: Dixon has been in office seven months, not four years.

Analysis: Mitchell, down in the polls and with less money on hand, is taking a more negative approach in the waning weeks of the campaign. Though this is far from an attack ad - criticism of Dixon's ethics, for example, are referred to only vaguely - it does show that the underdog campaign is making a shift in strategy.

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