Campaign Signs Under Siege in St. Mary's - Southern Maryland Headline News

Campaign Signs Under Siege in St. Mary's


Local Republicans, Democrats Decry Destruction and Theft of Campaign Materials

By Guy Leonard, County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Oct. 16, 2008)—It had to happen sooner or later: reports of the destruction or theft of presidential campaign materials are coming in from around St. Mary’s County, and the incidents have hit both campaigns GOP Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as well as the Democratic ticket of Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

David Willenborg, chairman of the McCain/Palin campaign here, said he has had two signs stolen from his yard and has received reports of at least seven other signs that have been destroyed, vandalized or purloined.

One Republican sign located at the intersection of Bull Road and Route 243 headed towards Compton had a sticker placed on it that prompted people to vote for a Democratic candidate if they were tired of GOP leadership.

The sticker was later removed.

“Stuff’s disappearing,” Willenborg said. “This is business as usual.

“This seems to have all happened in the past few days, an acceleration of stuff being destroyed.”

Cindy Slattery, president of the St. Mary’s County Democratic Club, was quick to condemn the destruction of a competing ticket’s campaign signs.

“This is not what democracy is about,” Slattery told The County Times. “There’s zero tolerance [in the local Democratic Party] for any of that nonsense.

“I just think that’s a bad way to play.”

Slattery said Democratic volunteers have reported incidents of sign removal from people’s yards but that vandalism has not become a problem.

Tom Haynie, chairman of the St. Mary’s County Republican Central Committee, said his party would, likewise, not tolerate any similar mischief aimed at the opposition.

“We’re not out there bothering their signs,” Haynie said. “And we’re not accusing them of this either.”

The campaign signs promoting the Mc-Cain/Palin ticket were a popular draw at the St. Mary’s County Fair, Willenborg said, as were bumper stickers.

About 600 signs were handed out and people picked up about 3,000 bumper stickers, he said.

Slattery said Democratic campaign signs and paraphernalia were just as popular.

Haynie said the signs represented a significant cost to the campaign with small signs running from $1.25 to $12. The larger signs placed near roadsides could run between $25 and $30, he said.

“It’s a despicable infringement on a person’s right to put up a political campaign sign,” Haynie said. “We’re not doing it except at the request of the land owner.

“Every sign that is up is on someone’s land who asked for it.”

Slattery said that here, in St. Mary’s, only small Obama/Biden signs were available and she was not certain what might happen to the larger signs if they came on the scene.

“Everybody [in the local Democratic party] is just frantic because we don’t have enough Obama signs,” she said.

Michael Cain, head of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said the destruction of campaign signs is a practice with an ignominious tradition that can flare up around this particular season.

“There is a kind of trend of vandalism around Halloween,” Cain said. “But when it’s one party it can be a real problem.”

Cain said the recent spate of vandalism and theft was likely not perpetrated by any organized group.

“People feel strongly about the candidates down here,” Cain said. “Perhaps what we’re seeing here comes from strength of passion, but I’d be surprised if it’s organized.

“But I’d certainly put a stop to it.”

Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron said the campaign sign mischief is more than just a nuisance; it is a crime.

“It’s a serious issue,” Cameron said. “It’s a theft; and it’s our right [to express political ideas], it’s our voice.

“We’ll treat it like any other crime.”

There are strong Republican sentiments in St. Mary’s County, with many voting for the GOP in the presidential election; but that is often counterbalanced by votes for Democrats in Congress, the statehouse and in local offices.

Either way, Slattery said, St. Mary’s was better of being known as a place where both sides of the political spectrum could work together in relative peace.

The recent antics put a pall over that spirit of cooperation, she said.

“We should be a model of democracy in St. Mary’s,” Slattery said. “Not the model of bad play.”

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