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Bill de Blasio, Joe Lhota ads reflect candidates' styles

Mayoral candidates Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio.

Mayoral candidates Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote; Charles Eckert

Every 30 seconds count for mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, who's running out of time to close the polling gulf with front-runner Bill de Blasio.

With two weeks until Election Day, experts said de Blasio's ads consistently have conveyed a clear message, while Lhota's spots mostly attack his rival and do not say enough about the candidate or what he would do for the city.

"At every turn, de Blasio reminds you why he's running and what he's going to do -- his 'tale of two cities' platform and his focus on inequalities and his move away from Bloomberg," said Jeanne Zaino, a New York University and Iona College political science professor with no campaign affiliations. "You contrast that really focused, thematic campaign with Lhota's, and you get this very fragmented picture of what this guy has been about."

TV and Web ads, which reach a large swath of voters, are important to winning because they allow candidates to deliver unfiltered messages that might otherwise get eclipsed in debates or in the media, experts said. Many contend that an ad featuring de Blasio's teenage son, Dante, helped him win the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.

The candidates' most recent ads demonstrate the stark difference between the two campaigns -- de Blasio's often feature him or members of his family speaking to voters. Republican Lhota is rarely seen and never heard in his spots.

The Lhota team last week began airing "Can't Go Back," in which a male narrator says de Blasio's "recklessly dangerous agenda on crime" will return the city to its most violent days. It included footage of the Sept. 29 Manhattan motorcycle melee in which a motorist was beaten and a biker was run over, and a montage of photos depicting riots, corpses and graffiti of the '70s, '80s and early '90s.

A day later, de Blasio, who holds a 3-1 lead in the polls, released a lighthearted ad featuring his daughter, Chiara, 18, who touts his vow to fund prekindergarten, stop racial profiling and keep hospitals open.

"When you're the front-runner, you don't want to rock the boat, so you run a positive campaign. When you're behind in the polls, you have to run a negative campaign," said Costas Panagopoulos, an associate professor of political science at Fordham, who has no connection to either candidate.

John Del Cecato, a partner in the Chicago-based AKPD Message and Media firm that is overseeing de Blasio's advertising campaign, said, "We staked out positions really early that were true to de Blasio, that attempted to communicate how he'd be different from [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg."

Del Cecato said the campaign "had this road map throughout that was from the candidate," who identified himself as the product of progressive "movement politics." "On the human level, my family is the core of my life," de Blasio told Newsday. "The ads represent that in a very powerful way, and I think they put in very immediate, human terms what I believe in and the vision I have for the future."

Lhota's campaign has hired two firms to produce its ads: Virginia-based Wilson Grand Communications, which created "Can't Go Back," and Chris Mottola Consulting, of New Jersey, which came up with one ad depicting Lhota as in step with de Blasio on social issues such as marriage equality and marijuana decriminalization, but fiscally conservative; and another contrasting his support for charter schools with de Blasio's criticism of them.

Neither Mottola nor Steve Grand, president of Wilson Grand, would comment.

Lhota spokeswoman Jessica Proud said she would speak for the Republican candidate.

She said Mottola and Grand worked separately on the ads, which are designed to introduce Lhota to voters as a social liberal who wants to limit tax hikes and cut spending. Moreover, the team wants the ads to speak to issues city residents care about: jobs, the economy, education and public safety, she said, not disclosing how involved Lhota has been with creating his spots.

"Our ads have been substantive, they've been actually talking about issues and presenting solutions to the problems and issues that people care about," Proud said. "Bill's ads are really nice and make you feel good, but they don't address anything about how he actually will fix these problems."

Barbara Apple Sullivan, a branding and communications expert who is not affiliated with either campaign, said de Blasio's team has built "a strong brand around his charismatic, authentic appeal."

His Chiara ad "elevates the election into something larger, and convinces the electorate that a vote for de Blasio isn't just checking a box -- it's becoming part of a movement."

Lhota's "recent attack ads, while understandable in their attempts to shake things up, do not necessarily equate to demonstrating passion," she added.

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