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Friday, July 29, 2005 | I would like to clarify something about my op-ed piece that addressed the campaign of Steve Francis. The article’s headline appeared to be aimed at Steve and came off as a public lecture to my cousin. It should not have been stated that way. Although I didn’t write the headline, I should have submitted one, and therefore I take responsibility for the error.
My words were not directed at my cousin, but rather at the various political consultants who will have the challenge of creating advertising for the mayor’s race and other issues. Having heard the sharpening rhetoric of the runoff candidates immediately following the primary, I feared that a rash of negative ads might follow in the future. As a result, I hastily wrote an article using Steve’s experience as a lesson. It was unfair to Steve to have done so.
Steve Francis poured his heart into his campaign, not just his money. He’s a very smart and sincere guy, and even though he’s out of the mayor’s race, he still has plenty of energy and ideas to contribute to our region. You don’t have to be his cousin to see that.
Having said that, I still feel that everyone in politics should consider the fragile nature of the city before resorting to negative attack ads or political shenanigans that disenfranchise voters. Furthermore, because my article came off as an attack piece against my cousin, I will be the first to warn of its dangers.
Let’s make this a clean campaign. We desperately need it. Okay, now I’ll go back up to the attic where the crazy relatives are hidden away.
My cousin, wealthy businessman Steve Francis, learned an expensive lesson when he lost his bid to become San Diego’s next mayor. And it goes far beyond the nearly $2 million he spent in the last 60 days.
The lesson is this: You can’t run a “Clean Up City Hall” campaign with dirty political tricks. Even marginally dirty.
As a Democrat, I didn’t agree with my cousin’s platform, but as a member of his family, I love him. He’s basically a good guy, whose quiet diligence has enabled him to succeed in many fields.
However, as a veteran of the advertising industry, I felt relieved to see his campaign’s negative ad tactics fail. I think he was horribly mishandled by his handlers.
It started with reports of push-polling, in which potential voters were phoned, ostensibly asking for their “opinions” while feeding them with negative information about opposing candidates. Then, in the last weeks of the campaign, the TV ads and mailers went decisively negative – going as far as promising that “City Hall insiders will tax you more.” (The word “will” would be struck down by most competent legal advisors in the ad industry, as no one can predict such a certainty.)
As a result, a number of mayoral candidates rose up against the half-truths that were woven into the Francis campaign’s commercials and mailers. They called Steve out on it. And his responses rang hollow with voters. It was clear from the polls that his numbers dropped right then and there.
Manipulation lost. Communication won.
I’m putting the political consultants on notice. They can shelve the incessant drone and snide-sounding announcers from their TV ads for good, as far as I’m concerned. Negative advertising just hit a giant pothole. Hopefully, it fell in.
This election was, and is, about telling the truth. It’s also about rising above the melee and leading us out of this mess with a little reassurance.
Our city may have needed a CEO, but our souls have needed a parent.
We need someone to tell us everything’s going to be all right in the midst of this City Hall nightmare. A parent can’t manipulate facts, or come off as mean-spirited. And that’s what I think failed for Steve.
The real Steve Francis – the one I grew up with – got to surface in one recent debate, when he delivered a moving tribute to Donna Frye and his other opponents. That’s the Steve I wish you knew. He’s not as glib as Richard Rider or as effusive as Myke Shelby, but he’s smart, persistent and sincere. Although I may not agree with his political views, there’s room for good people who are brave enough to devote their lives to the grueling heat of the public spotlight.
Hopefully he’ll be back, a little wiser for the experience. Having been guided down some questionable paths by some high-priced handlers in this last campaign, I think he simply fell in with a bad crowd. But then, I’m his cousin.
Lynn Macey, a veteran advertising copywriter and producer, has worked for several major national advertising agencies including Foote, Cone & Belding and J. Walter Thompson.