Sorry, Jim

Published in the Lititz Record, October 2016

Given that the election season, this two-year election marathon, is almost at an end, here’s a tale that may lighten your depression. But, while amusing, I may be telling it at my own expense.

In 1995, when county treasurer Paul Thibault was running to replace Jim Huber as county commissioner, he approached my partner and me for advertising help. I crafted a number of radio spots that leveraged the problem people had with his name. Although it was pronounced “Tee-Bow,” like the former football player, everyone seemed to be pronouncing it “Thigh-Bolt,” as it was spelled. By having commercials in which people mispronounced the name and then were corrected by someone who sounded smart, I was trying to boost his name recognition and make people feel more comfortable with the idea of voting for him. At least that was the plan.

And, getting him elected was quite a challenge. Jim Huber had been a commissioner since the dinosaur age and was very popular. The guy was tireless and attended every ribbon cutting, rubber-chicken dinner and parade ever held in the county. He could have schooled Donald Trump on how to get free ink. However, therein we saw an Achilles heel.

Jim used to participate in those parades by wearing silly hats and riding on some type of equally silly vehicle. So I had an idea: There was a parade coming up in downtown Lancaster, and we knew he’d make an appearance. So we recruited a teen-age kid from Paul’s neighborhood and gave him a camcorder. We told him to wait until the subject of our hunt approached, then to jump out into the street and film him so we could incorporate the footage into a derisive TV spot. “Make sure to yell his name so he looks right at the camera,” I instructed the kid.

It was low budget, but it seemed pretty foolproof. As we waited in our office, the kid came back from his mission all excited, saying, “I got it.” With great anticipation we popped the tape into a machine and there he was, perched on the sissy seat of some three-wheeled motorcycle contraption. Perfect! We even had the audio. We watched as the trike sped toward the camera position and then heard our kid yell to get his attention, “Hey, Huber!”

I stopped the tape, glared at the kid, furious. “Hey, Huber?” I barked. “Is that any way to address a county commissioner? Couldn’t you have shown a little respect?” My momentary outrage completely overwhelmed my sense of absurdity. Here I was trying to make the guy look ridiculous and I was chastising the kid for being disrespectful.

We made our TV spots, but cooler heads prevailed and the footage of Jim Huber was down-graded from a full-on negative commercial to just a few frames in an otherwise positive message about Paul. We didn’t even mention Huber by name, but rather referred to the “Ceremonial Commissioner.” Our work must have been effective. Or maybe it was just time for a change. Despite being previously “unknown,” Thibault won.

But it serves as a reminder to me, whenever I start to criticize the attack ads that fill our airwaves at election time, just how simple it is to fall into the mud. It’s so much easier and so much more fun to be negative. By today’s standards, or rather, lack of standards, what I did with that little stunt was pretty innocuous. Still, I had at least one foot on the top of a slippery slope. If Jim Huber were alive today, I’d probably call to apologize.

©2022, David B Bucher

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