D.C. City Council member Marion Barry opens his television media campaign in the mayoral race today with a message to voters to gamble on an outspoken politician who cares for the city's disadvantaged.
The three TV ads, from which Barry himself is conspicuously absent, are a calculated effort to turn to advantage what Barry strategists acnowledge is a major weakness for him -- the unshakeable threatening image he developed as a black militant street activist more than a decade ago.
A professional announcer's voice, paced by a background of pulsing music much like the opening scenes in a Western shootout flick, urges viewers to "Take a Stand" as the camera's lens zoom in for a full-screen closeup of a black and white Barry campaign poster.
"Marion has a fearful image that he has built up over the years" said David Abramson, president of Abramson-Himelfarb, the commercial advertising agency that produced the ads for $9,000.
The underlying message they are trying to get across, said Abramson, is that of a Barry who consistently has taken unpopular but forceful stands. "The strength that frightened you is the very same reason you should vote for him," Abramson explained.
The music in the ads conveys a sense of movement as the cameras pan quickly over scenes of boarded up city housing or keep in step with a youthful man, in white T-shirt with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, walking through a group of idle unemployed young people standing on the street. The themes are seen by Barry strategists as being the two major concerns of voters in the campaign: displacement of the poor from housing by speculators and the District of Columbia's high unemployment rate among young black males.
Marion Barry "tackled" these problems and "Marion Barry cares," the speaker's voice says. Both points are how voters who are inclined toward Barry perceive him, his campaign officials claim.
"They see him as hard working and willing to stand up to Congress, you know, to ruffle some feathers, so to speak," said one campaign official.
Barry's principal opponents in the Democratic primary race, Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Mayor Walter E. Washington, are indirectly characterized as uncaring with two understated questions repeated in each ad. "Where was Sterling Tucker? Where was Walter Washington?" the speaker asks.
"The real issue (between the three candidates)," said Abramson, "is not what jobs they have held. It's what they have done or not done."
The three ads, two 30-second spots and one 10-second spot, are aimed at the significant numbers of undecided voters in a chose race, persons in their 30s and 40s and people over 55-years of age, Abramson added. The largest number of undecides they have identified, Abramson continued, are persons 55 and over.
They also are trying to sway what Abramson called "secondary Tucker" supporters who are "softer than Washington's supporters," he said. "The mayor's supporters are with him. Its a waste of time to go after them," he added.
Barry said he did not appear in the political ads "because it would've raised production costs. I didn't have (the money)," he added.
As an economy move. Barry has tied in his radio ads, which began in mid-August, with his TV commercials and the black and white posters that gradually are being placed around town.
The four- and one-minute radio ads, on which Barry is heard for 25 seconds, cover housing, unemployment, education and health care. The latter two issues are of secondary importance to voters, Barry campaign workers feel.
The radio spots hit the top four issues, said Abramson, while the TV ads "reach huge numbers of people in an impactful way." Radio listeners and TV viewers hear and see the "Take a Stand" slogan over and over, he added.
"When they see the posters (on city streets)," Abramson said, the subliminal message comes back to the voter. "The posters (then) provide continuity. It makes the posters work twice as effectively."
Barry's radio ads will run on seven local stations, WTOP, WMAL, WHUR, WUST, WOL, WRC, and WGMS, until Sept. 11. Six last spots will run on WUST, an AM statio with a heavy gospel format, on primary day, Sept. 12.
His first TV ad will be seen on WJLA during this evening's broadcast of "American Black Forum." Thereafter, the TV ads will run on WJLA, WDVM, WRC, WTTG and WDCA until Sept. 11.
Barry's total radio and television budget runs to $43,000 in ad buys, according to campaign manager Ivanhoe Donaldson.