Commentary

If New York Mayoral Candidate's YouTube Testimonials Work, Local Campaigns Everywhere Could Change

Hardly anything that happens first in New York City seems to really relate to anything that is happening elsewhere, it seems to me. But if it works in New York it seems to be able to be repeated elsewhere, so I’d bet there are more than a few political operatives watching the mayoral campaign of Christine Quinn.

Once, City Council Speaker Quinn’s official name seemed to be Likely New York’s Next Mayor Christine Quinn but lately she has swapped that for a tougher handle, Embattled Mayoral Candidate Christine Quinn. Without going through the ins and outs of New York politics, she hasn’t seemed to ignite supporters who are weighing the field in the Democratic primary.

So Tuesday, she unveiled the first of what apparently will be a series of YouTube testimonials, this one from the parents of 24-year old Manny, who had a brain condition and was turned away for months from city hospitals. He died in 2004 from a seizure. Quinn, we learn in the video, reached out to Manny’s mom, Levia Prieto,  and she vowed to make sure laws would be changed. That led to New York’s  Patient Information Act,  called ‘Manny’s Law’, requiring city hospitals to develop aid programs for poor patients like he was.   

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“The compassion she has for another human being and do what’s right—that’s her,” Prieto says, of Quinn, in this first of what the Quinn campaign is calling the “Real People, Real Voices, Real #CQ Results” campaign.

There is nothing particularly zippy about the video, but Quinn is a local candidate for a local office, and while that office is mayor and that city is New York, it will be watched to see what kind of long political coat tails can develop for a video like that on YouTube.  

In New York, I’d guess, the outcome is skewed because the city is more media saturated than anyplace in this country, and probably the world.  A YouTube video like that can thrive only if other media note its existence, and in that regard, New York print and broadcast outlets came through.

But in more ordinary cities, effective YouTube campaigns could be an effective way to work around smaller budgets that local candidates have at their command.  To make those ads work they do need the initial push—but local media would likely see the news hook in a viable candidate or incumbent using YouTube.  Local media still find the whole online thing so...new. It’s pretty simple media to “earn.”  

But local media ain’t like it used to be, from a coverage standpoint.  Big city stations don’t usually dote on their big city politicians like they once did—people in suburban Winnetka aren’t as interested in  Chicago’s City Council, the consultants discovered a while ago. Newspapers, though read by people who tend to vote, are not reliably counted as mass media anymore. By comparison, YouTube videos are cheap to produce, free to post, unfettered by time constraints (the Quinn testimonial is nearly three minutes long), potentially seen by everybody and “news” by its very existence. What’s not to like, if you get voters to look in the first place?  And here’s the kicker: YouTube is about as ubiquitious now as Google.

Heretofore, most of the online connection voters have had to local politicians came from gaffes, not campaigns. Emerging, as unlikely as it may seem, as one of Quinn’s chief rivals is Anthony Weiner, the former Congressman who destroyed his career by tweeting lurid photos of himself to women he’d met. (There’s a guy who has to be happy Vine didn’t exist until the beginning of this year.) More recently, Toronto’s mayor has been fighting the rumor that a video showing him smoking crack exists and could at any moment show up on YouTube.  (It has now “gone missing,” as they say.)   

Presuming nothing that bizarre happens to Quinn, he move to streaming video will be a campaign to watch.  And using YouTube effectively in New York would prove that familiar Sinatra song right again. If you can make it there, you could make it anywhere. We’ll see.

pj@mediapost.com            

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