Samantha Byles argues that tactics used in political campaigns offer misleading information or exaggerated depictions of the politician’s true intent.
Unfortunately, politicians have sometimes had negative connotations attached to them. So much so that even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has factored the ideas of the general public into one of its definitions of a politician: “a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons.”
The best way for voters to know if this is true or not, is through the political campaigns of candidates. But political campaigns, like politicians, have become known for its outrageous tactics just to get the attention of voters. Political campaigns are either exaggerated or concerned with the top depictions of politicians.
Today, registered voters in Philadelphia will vote for their next mayor. On the ballot are incumbent Democratic Michael Nutter, Republican Karen Brown and Independent Wali “Diop” Rahman.
The political campaigns of each candidate have been unique, but whether or not they have effectually conveyed their hopes and goals for Philadelphia is questionable. When Nutter was elected to the mayoral position in 2008, people were excited to see someone new. Local publications supported the candidate and his promise of change. In fact, all of Philadelphia seemed to back Nutter as he won the position of mayor in a landslide win.
Nutter may recognizes the predictability of him winning again, as his lack of campaigning has shown. For example, Nutter’s campaign website has a section strictly dedicated to his accomplishments since he was elected mayor. Yet, nutter2011.com has no new proposals listed for Philadelphia if he is re-elected.
“I don’t necessarily blame Nutter for not doing much when he just may win,” said Michael Hagen, associate professor and graduate chair of the department of political science.
“Incumbent mayors tend to win because people already know them,” Hagen added. “And then there’s Nutter’s democratic status.”
As of Oct. 31, the Pennsylvania Department of State reported that 78.3 percent of registered voters in Philadelphia are democratic.
“People don’t know about them,” Hagen said. “They need to find a way to stand out, they don’t want to look crazy, but they want to gain the attention of the news media so that they can get attention from the voters.”
Cue Brown and Rahman.
Brown proudly boasts of her status as the first female candidate to run for the mayoral position in Philadelphia, but in order to win this election she needs more than that.
The Republican City Committee selected Brown as the republican candidate in the primary elections last minute, but now she seems to have no backing by the party and with reason, as Brown’s previous roles in government had her identified as a democratic politician. She held the position as Democratic Committee Member of the First Ward for 12 years.
Unlike Brown, Independent candidate Rahman saw it important not to be affiliated with either party.
“I don’t consider myself as a politician, because that has negative connotations and that doesn’t describe what I represent,” Rahman said. “I see myself as a freedom fighter.”
And Rahman’s campaign reflects this idea with his motto, “Run Hard! It’s Our City and We Want It Now!” With an emphasis on economic development, Rahman argues that the city budget is being spent recklessly on things such as police containment and support of big corporations instead of education and effective safety measurements.
“The other candidates are avoiding the real issues that affect the masses of people. I know the issues because I interact with the people,” Rahman said. “I go out to the community with flyers and posters and speak to the people. I participate in aggressive outreach.”
Josh Hanan, assistant professor in the department of strategic and organizational communication said he agrees.
“It is important to get out there, being face-to-face with the voters and bringing your own unique personality to your campaign,” Hanan said.
“But even then, you want to appeal to the general audience and attract as many people as you can,” Hanan added. “You just might have to compromise certain principles to become more attractive to others.”
At the same time, politicians have to be careful about what type of attention they do get. While the saying goes “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” there is the chance of looking ridiculous to constituents.
Brown has experienced this when she released a last-minute, 34-second long campaign advertisement. The low quality ad shows Brown in front of a fake memorial, discussing the issue of teenage violence in the city and Nutter’s lack of attention towards the problem.
On the other hand, Rahman has passed out thousands of flyers across the city. With a Pan-African color scheme of red, green and black, Rahman’s flyers read that “As Mayor of Philadelphia I will replace the $1 billion budget of police containment with fully funded, community controlled education with power to hire and fire faculty, staff and administration,” among other things.
Philadelphia will have to wait and see if the political campaigns follow the reforms and policies enforced when the polling results are released. In a city suffering from serious problems, the newly elected mayor has a responsibility as an elected official to make a difference and decide whether or not to drift away from the pessimistic image of a politician.
Samantha Byles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.