THE AIR WAR has begun.
City Attorney Mark Sidran, who is trailing badly in the polls, is the first mayoral candidate to take to the air with TV advertising. Sidran has purchased around $100,000 worth of 30-second spots that started last Sunday on KIRO 7 and other stations.
Sidran's first ad is a blast at the records of his major opponents—Mayor Paul Schell and King County Council member Greg Nickels—on Sound Transit's light rail. The ads feature Sidran holding the heads of his opponents on a couple of sticks and mimicking their voices as they avoid responsibility for the light-rail debacle (see Campaign Cocktail, p. 12). Sidran has decided to go negative early but has softened the message with humor. Will it work?
Nickels flack Marco Lowe doubts it. "How much damage can he inflict with Sound Transit? Not that much." Lowe says Nickels' polling and focus groups suggest that the linchpin of this election is not light rail but leadership. He believes Sidran, who a substantial block of voters already feel is too negative, is mistaken to go on the attack so early. Lowe says it will define Sidran in the voters' eyes as a divisive figure.
Nickels, the front-runner in the most recent poll, has also purchased TV time. He has a pending purchase of $36,000 at KIRO, a confirmed buy of $13,000 at KCPQ 13, and is rumored to be in negotiations with KING 5 as well. Confident of his lead, Nickels won't start his ads until Sept. 11, just a week before the primary election.
Since Sidran's ads only run through Sept. 2, it raises the distinct possibility that he will purchase another round of advertising in the final two weeks before the primary. If so, he would dwarf the total spent on TV ads in 1997's mayoral primary, when Schell spent $80,000 and Nickels dropped $50,000. (This year, Schell has not yet purchased any TV time.) Schell's consultant Blair Butterworth says Sidran's fund-raising is not going well enough to pay for another round of ads, so he expects the multimillionaire city attorney to pony up his own dough.
Sidran's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
George Howland Jr.