By Don Russell
Philadelphia Daily News
July 1, 2003
From testifying before City Council to producing voluminous reports on the necessity of automated traffic enforcement, the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running has positioned itself as an influential, “independent” authority on one of the major causes of traffic accidents.
Though the effectiveness of red-light cameras as a safety tool is still up in the air, the campaign is an unfaltering supporter of the controversial systems.
Far from being a group of grass-roots safety do-gooders, the organization is actually in the business of selling expensive red-light cameras to communities.
The national campaign is run by a Washington, D.C., public relations agency that was hired by the nation’s biggest operator of traffic surveillance systems.
The agency, Blakey & Agnew, staffs the campaign and publishes its reports. One of the PR firm’s principals, Leslie Blakey, is the campaign’s executive director.
Blakey, a former restaurateur, and partner Jeff Agnew have run the firm since 2001. The agency was started by Blakey’s sister, Marion, who left when she was named by President Bush as chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Marion Blakey is now administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Blakey & Agnew runs several other so-called public-interest campaigns, including the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Carriers, which is backed by freight carriers, and the National Hardcore Drunk Driver Project, backed by distillers.
Leslie Blakey said the red-light campaign was started after some members of Congress, including former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, spoke in opposition of the cameras as an invasion of privacy.
“We were concerned that among the various accusations and misrepresentations that came up in… in front of Congress, there was really no voice supporting photo enforcement,” Blakey said.
The nation’s largest red-light camera supplier, Lockheed Martin IMS (now Affiliated Computer Services), stepped forward, she said, and became the campaign’s “founding sponsor.”
Additionally, the agency touts an unpaid advisory board consisting of representatives from the insurance industry, highway safety groups, law enforcement and elsewhere.
Though the group does acknowledge that it is “industry-funded,” that point is decidedly glossed over in campaign literature. The group’s press events instead lean toward pathos, featuring horribly injured crash victims pleading for legalization of the $50,000 cameras.