DC Mayoral Race Hits the Airwaves

Tommy Wells buys the first television ads of the race with a pop quiz on campaign ethics.

By: Benjamin Freed

The DC mayoral race is hitting the airwaves today, with Council member Tommy Wells making a two-week ad buy on cable news channels. Wells is pushing out two spots, both of which quiz viewers on his favorite issue of campaign ethics.

Both ads test voters’ knowledge of Jeffrey Thompson, the DC businessman suspected of financing an illicit “shadow campaign” on Mayor Vince Gray’s behalf in 2010 with $653,000 in unreported contributions. The first one asks which candidate has taken reported contributions from Thompson and his network of donors in the past—Gray, or leading challenger Muriel Bowser. (The answer is both.) The second commercial, using the same format music, asks how many “major” candidates in the eight-person Democratic field have taken money from Thompson’s people. (The answer is one: Wells, though also-rans like Reta Jo Lewis, Carlos Allen, and Andy Shallal haven’t taken money from Thompson, either.)

The ads continue Wells’s skewering of his opponents for their fundraising tactics, but he is also gambling that voters in the April 1 Democratic primary are familiar Thompson, the key figure in the federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign.

“The Average man on the street would not know who Jeffrey Thompson is,” Wells’s campaign manager Chebon Marshall admits. “But there are high-information voters here.”

Wells needs those voters to be as high-information as Marshall predicts. An independent poll released Tuesday put him in fourth place with just 12 percent of likely voters, well behind Gray, at 28 percent, and Bowser, who got 20 percent, and nipping at Jack Evans, with 13 percent.

“I will definitely need some help,” Wells said Wednesday night following a debate hosted by WAMU.