Posted by: tomkingaerial | June 10, 2010

Publicity stunt for election

Politician shares airplane message with Bay Area.

Flying 1,500 feet above the Presidio in San Francisco, Paul De Clercq gazed out the cockpit of a small airplane Wednesday afternoon with a big smile on his face.

A few hundred feet away, just east of the Golden Gate Bridge, another plane was towing a banner proclaiming the Belgian citizen’s message — inspired by President Barack Obama — in big, bold letters: “YES FLANDERS, YOU CAN … !”

Any locals who looked skyward about 4 p.m. when the banner was overhead were probably perplexed by what De Clercq, 46, was trying to say, or what the “open vld” logo on the sign meant. That’s OK — they weren’t his target audience.

It was a publicity stunt, intended to generate buzz across the world in De Clercq’s home country of Belgium, where he is running with the liberal Open VLD party for a position in the new government there. Of course, he also hoped it would get Bay Area residents talking in advance of the election on Sunday.

“The banner is just about getting attention,” De Clercq said in an interview a couple of hours earlier at the San Carlos Airport. “It’s about getting the word spread.”

To understand the curious stunt is to get to know the quirky and affable De Clercq, who arrived on the Peninsula on May 20 to fulfill a childhood dream of earning his pilot’s license.

Rather than cancel the trip, he decided to campaign from California, setting up a website and the banner stunt he pulled off Wednesday. He hoped to tow the banner himself, but that requires a special license.
Some in Belgium have called for a split of the country, but De Clercq insists it should stay together. He hoped Wednesday’s message, channeling Obama’s “Yes we can” slogan, would drive home his view that the competing political factions can resolve their differences.

“As a Flanders community, we can solve our problems with Wallonia in a way we can both get better,” De Clercq said during the flight over San Francisco.

De Clercq contacted The Daily News, hoping that the publicity would help Bay Area residents understand the unusual banner. Does he think the aerial advertising banner served its purpose of boosting his political campaign? “Oh yes, why not?” De Clercq said, back on the tarmac at San Carlos Airport. “I already had a lot of fun, so in my view, it already worked.”

Do you want to read more about this unusual airplane banner stunt?

The Associated Press contributed to this report:

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