updated 10:15 am EDT, Fri October 23, 2009
Allegations of corruption by business
Giant banner ads for iPods have created political controversy in Boston, writes the Boston Globe. The ads are said to have first arrived in the fall of 2007, a few months before the opening of the city's flagship Apple Store. Covering a wall measuring 13,750 square feet, the banners immediately drew fire from the Outdoor Advertising Board, which called them illegal. They have nevertheless remained in place, though in June of this year the companies behind the ads were required to pay the state $110,000 and request a new permit from the city's government. The permit was approved within the same week by the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
The administration of Boston mayor Thomas Menino has generally fought against new billboards, however, and Menino campaign aide and confidant David Passafaro has newly admitted that he called the BRA in 2007, on behalf of Greg John, a business colleague who arranged the deal for the iPod ads.
"'Helped' is not the right word," says Passafaro. "I was called by Greg John... he said, 'What’s the process to do one of these?'"
Passafaro denies that the call was an attempt to endorse the ad on behalf of John, who has contributed the maximum $500 each year to Menino since 2005. In April, John helped to co-host a breakfast fundraiser for the mayor, at which maximum contributions were gathered from six people connected to the iPod advertising. No one from Apple is believed to have been involved.
John's recollection of events has shifted over time, from initially denying any business connections with Passafaro to admitting he had forgotten asking for help.
"He [Passafaro] soon got back to me with the normal process, which was to submit an application, stamped engineering plan, and drawing to the BRA and ISD," reads a statement by John. "Recently, because of your inquiry, I learned that David did call the BRA to confirm the process. I followed this lengthy and normal process to the letter of the law, as any person off the street would do. His information to me was 100 percent procedural. No call was made 'on my behalf.'"
BRA officials note that while it is possible to gain temporary permits for ads like the iPod campaign, the agency tends to prefer they relate to sponsorships or specific events, such as those occurring inside the building used for the ad. Chief planner Kairos Shen says he was never asked to examine plans for an iPod promotion, which were instead stamped by someone from his office's urban design team, and not seen as controversial. No complaints about the ads are alleged to have been received so far. "It is big, and the one thing [the BRA] should have done is to reduce the size," Shen confesses.
Passafaro says he was meanwhile contacted by John a second time, with questions about renewing a temporary ad permit, which expired in fall 2008. The aide claims he is not certain if he called the BRA afterwards.
The OAB has long argued that it should have been asked for approval by the owner of the ads, Planet Self-Storage, though it would likely have been rejected. The company defends itself as exempt as a result of promoting on-premises sales of iTunes gift cards. Renovations are nevertheless underway to create a bigger space for Apple products in an attempt to please the OAB before a February deadline.