It was too good to be true—until it absolutely wasn’t.
Philadelphia grocery tycoon-turned Democratic mayoral candidate Jeff Brown stunned voters in December when he released a very buzzy campaign ad featuring former first lady Michelle Obama singing his praises.
Brown is one of the few white candidates running in a crowded race of 11 Democratic mayoral hopefuls, so appealing to the Black vote is crucial. For years, Brown has had a reputation for siting his ShopRite grocery stores in predominantly Black neighborhoods that are otherwise food deserts. At first, it looked like he was making waves with the first televised campaign ad of the election cycle showcasing such good deeds. Now it appears to be backfiring right before his very eyes.
“I think Jeff Brown put it best when he said we’re not gonna be on the sidelines,” Mrs. Obama is filmed saying in the ad. “We’re gonna be right with our communities.”
The 30-second ad, which ran on diverse cable television networks (such as BET and VH1) across Philly, also featured a photo of Brown with former President Barack Obama as it boasted how the wealthy grocer was addressing food deserts in his city. At surface level, one could assume that with so much of the Obama family’s presence in the ad, both camps must have agreed on some aspect of it. However, The Daily Beast can reveal that this was not the case and that Mrs Obama’s camp was unhappy with the ad, and contacted Brown’s campaign directly.
“They didn’t tell us to take the ad down, but it could be implied,” a spokesperson for Brown said. “We were already planning to no longer run the ad because it had run its cycle and we have new campaign ads to run.”
The Brown campaign admitted to The Daily Beast that they did not approach the Obamas before the ad was launched.
“The Jeff Brown ad featuring former First Lady Michelle Obama included content that was publicly available and in the public domain,” a spokesperson for Jeff Brown’s campaign told The Daily Beast. “It included comments that former First Lady Obama made about Jeff Brown’s work on developing solutions to the national food desert crisis. The ad producers did not reach out because the comments were in the public domain.”
A spokesperson for Mrs. Obama told The Daily Beast that she was not formally endorsing Brown for mayor.
“Mrs. Obama doesn’t typically endorse in primaries and isn’t supporting a candidate in this race,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.
According to Brown’s campaign spokesperson, the ad has not been running since the MLK weekend due to it “completing its cycle.” However, in something of a coincidence perhaps, that was the same time that Mrs Obama’s camp got in touch and “implied” that they didn’t want the ad to continue running.
The Michelle Obama ad is not the only misstep Brown has made in his effort to reach Black Philadelphia voters.
A recent social media campaign video that has now been removed from Brown’s official Instagram page featured the ShopRite store owner being praised by Black residents—even comparing him to God and “Big Ma.”
“In our communities, we have people called grandmoms. We call them ‘Big Ma,’ where they can give you a hug or give you a meal,” says a young Black Philly social media influencer, who goes by the name “Philly’s Motivation,” in the clip. “And that’s the kind of energy that Mr. Brown gives off.”
“One thing about God is, He’s always going to have your back no matter how hard it gets, and so will Mr. Brown,” the same man says later, this time alongside Brown on a street corner with a group of Black Philadelphians. “And I thank you for being a like-image.”
Social media reaction to the now controversial 1-minute video was less than flattering:
What could perhaps be more cringy is that the young Black male star in the video is actually not just a random fan of Brown—but a former employee.
“The male (Dana) wasn’t compensated and was a former ShopRite employee (2 years ago),” a spokesperson for Brown’s campaign said. “No individuals who participated or are featured in our campaign social media posts were compensated. They are all volunteers who offered their candid comments.”
Only time will tell if Brown’s tone-deaf antics will cost him big or just fly by. Let’s just hope such campaigning doesn’t offend more voters heading to Black History Month.