Mike’s Imaginary Salsa Ad

There’s certainly something to the Ferrer campaign’s contention that they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to the media, one backed by Bill Lynch. Setting aside the political stances of newspaper proprietors (which shouldn’t always be set aside), the delight we take in campaign follies hits Freddy harder because his staff is stretched thinner, more likely to err. Mike can afford a huge staff; others, like Anthony, work with a small staff but keep a very simple focus. Freddy is trying to do a lot with a little money, and so of course they’re sloppier.

But the media story has a flip-side: The press likes and underdog, and tacitly sees itself, often, as having the responsibility of leveling the playing field. What’s more, there’s a squeamishness about kicking Freddy while he’s down.

This sentiment seems to have kept unwritten a central story about Freddy’s media campaign: How explicitly ethnic some of his appeals are. As I understand it, the Villaraigosa campaign, for example, generally avoided anything that could suggest that his first priority would be Hispanics. Freddy’s Spanish-language television began with an emotional spot on the theme “we made history.” Now they end with him thanking his “familia.” Are others not family?

The most striking one of these, though, if Freddy’s recent radio spot, which features a country music love song, an African-American voice linking Mike and Bush, and this tag line: “Elect Freddy Ferrer Mayor. He’s not like Mike. He’s more like you.”

Two Democratic campaign veterans I spoke to when it was released had the same instant reaction: Um, I hope that’s not for black radio. It was.

The problem?

Well, how about this spot: Salsa music in the background, and the words “mi amor” and “mi corazon” floating through. The text says Freddy’s “married” to the Bronx political machine, or something like that. And the tag-line: “Re-elect Mike Bloomberg. He’s not like Freddy. He’s more like you.” Run it on WABC, or make the narrator African-American and run it on black radio.

I asked Roberto Ramirez about this when we interviewed him for this week’s profile, and he dismissed the comparison. “This is about Bush,” he said of the Ferrer spot. It’s a catchy, unconventional spot — another attempt to break through without much money. Ramirez also said the “familia” tag rings differently in Spanish, and has a less exclusive feel.

But the salsa ad could be making a legitimate point. And any spot that ends “He’s more like you” has to raise the question of why, exactly, people are being asked to vote for the candidate.

This hasn’t gotten any press at all, though the Times touches today on Freddy pushing a Hispanic line more aggressively than he has before, in the debate trap set for Mike by the Freddy-allied Hispanic Federation. (Hard to beat up on Freddy for having allied non-profits, since half the non-profits in town take money from Mike, and the other half are holding their hands out.)

But the real story is in the media buys, and the fact that it hasn’t been written about the underdog is the flip-side of the Ferrer campaign’s complaints about the press.