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Simpsons in Springfield
Video producer David Hogan sits with Tony Cignoli, far right, a consultant organizing Springfield's bid to host "The Simpsons Movie" premiere. (Wiqan Ang for the Boston Globe)

Kennedy backs city's 'Simpsons Movie' campaign

SPRINGFIELD -- Ted Kennedy is turning the other cheek.

For years, the Massachusetts senator and his family have been lampooned on the cartoon series "The Simpsons" by Joe Quimby , the skirt-chasing Democratic mayor of Springfield who speaks with a Boston accent, throws money at political problems, and vacations in a coastal resort called the "Quimby Compound." Now Kennedy wants to make peace with his yellow, four-fingered foe.

"We cordially invite all the Simpsons -- Homer, Marge, Bart, old 'Diamond' Joe Quimby, Grampa, Lisa, and Abe -- to join us in Springfield, Mass.," Kennedy announces in a video that will be posted online today . "Just think: After 400 episodes, you'll be able to enjoy some real 'chow-dah.' "

With Kennedy's help, the city of Springfield, Mass., is competing against 13 other Springfields to host the world premiere of "The Simpsons Movie" next month. The honor would draw international attention to a city known primarily as the home of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Several hundred residents -- many in yellow-tinted skin and starchy blue hairdos -- participated in the five-minute video that represents the city's entry in the contest. Films from the various Springfields will appear on USAToday.com, where voters will select the winner from now until July 10.

"Kennedy is our ace in the hole," said David Horgan , the video's producer. "The Springfield in Ohio called and said, 'I heard you got Kennedy in your video.' I said, 'Yeah.' They said, 'It's all over.' "

City councilors unanimously passed a bill in support of the project after Simpsons fans lobbied them with Homer's trademark sprinkled purple doughnuts. "This could put Springfield on the map for something good," said council president Kateri Walsh . "It could create a whole new tourist industry -- people wanting to visit the Home of the Simpsons."

Producers provided the Globe with a glance at Kennedy's scene but would not reveal other details about the video. In his scene, the senator stares into the camera and issues his invitation, before the camera cuts to hundreds of Springfield residents gathered on the steps of City Hall.

Kennedy's office declined to comment on his opinion about "The Simpsons" but issued a statement saying, "Kennedy was thrilled to participate in the campaign and hopes all the Simpsons will come to the number one Springfield in America for a great night later this summer."

In addition to Quimby's accent, the fictional Springfield shares several similarities with the Massachusetts city. In one episode, Springfield legalizes gay marriage. In another, Homer's search for a new watering hole leads him to Cheers, in Boston. Plus, former executive producer Mike Scully is from Western Springfield.

But "the City of Homes," as Springfield, Mass., is known, is not the only town competing to become the City of Homer. Springfield, Ky., created a countrified character named Gomer Simpson for its video. Oregon plugged its ties to "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening , a Portland native. Missouri used 15 film crews, 9,000 extras, and 1,440 doughnuts in its spoof, says Breena Camden, a spokesman for 20th Century Fox , which is sponsoring the contest.

In Illinois, filmmakers found a local power plant head who looks uncannily similar to the character Mr. Burns, who runs the nuclear power plant on "The Simpsons." "We've even got a real Simpsons family -- mother, father, son, two daughters, all generally in the age range of the characters," said Tim Farley , the leader of Illinois's campaign. "We have always thought of ourselves as the Springfield from the Simpsons."

Even tiny Springfield, Neb., which does not have a movie theater, entered the contest. The other participating Springfields are in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, and Vermont.

Although other Springfields congratulated Massachusetts on booking Kennedy, they questioned whether a celebrity cameo would sway voters.

"I think it's really cool that Mr. Kennedy got involved, but I don't think it will make the difference," said Tim Robertson , the director of the video for Springfield, Mich. "When you're a bigger city, you can get big names."

Big names are only one tactic being considered in the campaigns for online voters. In Oregon, Camden said, video makers plan to spray paint "El Barto" on a monument -- a reference to the show -- and ask anyone with information about the supposed crime to visit USAToday.com.

"This is like running a national political campaign," said Tony Cignoli, a political consultant organizing the Massachusetts bid. "We're in the dog days of summer, and we're asking people to give us a hand. This is going to take a lot of elbow grease and word of mouth."

The winner of the contest will roll out the "yellow carpet" July 26, one day before the film opens in the rest of America. Makers of "The Simpsons Movie" will attend the ceremony, and die-hard fans will pour into town from around the world.

"We wanted to give back to the Springfield communities that have supported the show for the past 18 years," Camden said.

Several weeks ago, each city received a life-size replica of the living room from "The Simpsons" opening, plus a camera, two cans of yellow paint, a red Buzz Cola, and instructions for drawing "Simpsons" characters. The cities were not required to use the sets, though they must include the "Simpsons" movie logo.

But Horgan, the producer, said Springfield's most valuable assets were donated locally. Edward Brown , the president of Springfield's New York Sound and Motion, estimates the company volunteered at least $30,000 worth of time, equipment, and manpower. "I don't think they're going to say we're the 'real town' from 'The Simpsons,"' Brown said. "But I'm hoping they'll say that this town exemplifies 'Simpsons' spirit."

Paul DiGrigoli , a local hair salon owner, offered free Simpsons-style haircuts to 50 participants in the video. Winning the contest would give Springfield an injection of morale, he said. "There's such negativity right now with the high crime rate," he said. "We're trying to give Springfield a positive statement instead of a negative statement."

But some residents were skeptical. Johnny Hernandez , a hydraulic equipment builder, struggled to imagine the Simpsons living in Springfield. "Bart driving a drop-down car with 22-inch rims," he said. "I can't see it."

Robbie Brown can be reached at jbrown@globe.com.

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