Yesterday I received my first attack mailer of this Coral Gables Commission Campaign season, one aimed at incumbent Mayor Jim Cason.
I’ve put a full .pdf of the anti-Cason attack mailer online; below I discuss who sent it, and then explain why I think it’s not a very effective piece of advertising.
As there is only one other candidate in the race, the mailer must be in support of the challenger, Commissioner Ralph Cabera. But the mailer is not sourced to his campaign, giving him some degree of deniability.
The legally required sponsorship line reads
Paid electioneering communication
paid for by Citizen Action Inc.
1172 S. Dixie Hwy #250
Coral Gables, FL 33146
Best as I can determine from Google maps this is a PO Box address at a local UPS store.
Citizen Action Inc. is a local political consulting firm. The official registration for Citizen Action Inc. with the Florida Division of Elections lists only Keith Donner as Chairperson, Treasurer and Registered Agent. They were assessed a fine of $500 for being a day late with their campaign finance report in 2012. (A day really matters when the report is due two business days before the election!)
According to the Sun Post, Citizen Action Inc has a record of doing hit-style direct mail advertising. Check out Donner’s direct-mail outfit, 50 Blue.
But no matter–the key question is who paid for the ad. Given this was the pattern in the most recent Coral Gables Commission election, it is more than possible that the mailings were not paid for by Cabrera but instead by a third party. The chief suspects have to include the public services unions which have some reason to be unhappy with the Mayor. It could, for example, easily be the police union. The Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police made independent expenditures for candidate Gonzalo Sanabria in the 2011 Commission election.
What’s Wrong With the Mailer
Leaving aside all questions of appropriateness and financing, I think there are two problems with this mailer as a matter of bare-knuckle tactics: it is both too negative and not negative enough.
By ‘too negative’ I mean that I think there is a significant portion of the most active Coral Gables electorate that really doesn’t like negative campaigning. On the other hand, negative campaigning is hardly new around here, much as people like to be shocked, shocked, shocked that it is going on.
By ‘not negative enough’ I mean that, even taking into account that I may be more jaded than the average consumer of attack mailers, I found the brickbats directed to Mayor Cason to be somewhat unconvincing. (It may bear mentioning here that I was not a supporter of Jim Cason in the previous election, and I am at present undecided about this year.) I am NOT saying that the effort should have been more like a previous Keith Donner effort that crossed the line.
What are the charges?
First, Cason “has not sponsored a single initiative or even a single item for discussion by the City Commission.” Eh? So? Was there something that wasn’t being covered by the others? In the last election the knock on Cason was that his history suggested he might be a bull in a china shop; now you are saying he is too deferential to the other Commissioners?
Next charge: Cason voted for higher fees and new fees. By my lights this is probably the most effective one on the list. But the problem here is that like many voters who moved to the Gables precisely because it offers better city services than just about anywhere in the county, I am not against city services — I like them! In order to exist, City services obviously need revenue, so I’m not sure what to make of this charge. I do sort of wonder why localities like Coral Gables insist on so many user fees when if they would just call them taxes I could deduct them from my federal return, but I suppose the word “tax” is just so toxic that even if they tried to explain we’d save money being taxed instead of being subject to fees it might not fly.
Third charge is that Cason “voted for $22 million in new spending” for supposed “pet projects”. Well, that’s a lot of money, and I’d like to know more about where it went, but until you tell me specifically what the projects were and why they were bad, I am not going to bite. (Note also that these projects had to pass the Commission, and Cason is just one vote there; so at least two other Commissioners had to like these ‘pet’ projects.) One of Cason’s mailings listed a bunch of ribbons he’s cut over the past two years, and they didn’t look particularly toxic, or particularly exciting, to me. Cabrera’s statement I published recently says we should be spending more money on traffic calming. Personally I HATE most of the traffic calming structures that have been installed in my neighborhood as they just make it harder to get anywhere. Tree-filled medians on not-particularly-wide streets are not high on my priority list either.
Final charge is that Cason “refuses to do anything about crime spree”. Leave aside the fact that the current crime uptick is mostly property crime and the mailer tries to make it sound as if rapists and murders were stalking the City Beautiful. What the mailer doesn’t tell us is what the Mayor should have done or failed to do. I would have thought this was a matter for the Chief of Police. Is the suggestion we need a new Chief? Or more cops? If so, why not say so? Even Cabrera’s issue statement that I published only suggests that we need more transparency about crime data, not any concrete action. It’s going to take more than that to sell me.
And here’s a final point: I think the last few national elections involved so many negative mailers with particularly ugly photos of the target that this schoolyard-level tactic is now approaching the end of its shelf life.