Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Blocking Out the Scenery, Breaking My Mind.

(The author is a former candidate - Ed4Ed, and as such, has personal insight into the making and placing of political placards.  While more an observation than a commentary, this is, nonetheless, opinion).

As perennial as orange leaves, crisp apples and pumpkin spice latte, political signs have sprung up around Middletown in advance of the election in November.

Do these signs have a message beyond the obvious, "vote for?"

Here's my interpretation.

Bigger than life Sandra.  (Full disclosure, Sandra is a neighbor and friend, and I have one of her signs on my lawn).  Since early August, I had a sense of what one of mayoral candidate (R) Sandra Russo-Driska's strategies would be for getting elected. Think big.  Since late summer, I've been gazing out at the oversized signs leaning against her garage.

The signs match Sandra's personality, larger than life, and friendly.  Russo-Driska began posting her signs around town just after Labor Day, and they have been the dominant image of this election season. As ubiquitous as Dunkin' Donuts, it's hard to turn a corner without seeing a reminder to "Elect Sandra."  She's the first face you see coming off Route 9 onto Main Street, and you may see her before that if you happen to be following one of the buses that feature her face.

One has to guess that incumbent mayor Dan Drew is saving his money for political strategies other than lawn signs.  Certainly Drew has the wherewithal to blanket the town with signs, but his approach has been more modest, with small lawn signs distributed throughout town.  We can expect that Drew won't let his hard won campaign dollars go to waste, and that a major get-out-the-vote effort will be a capstone of his election strategy.

Incumbent Democratic council member Tom Serra has been at this for awhile.  He's not stranger to sign placement, or sign economy.

The original "Franken-sign"
Serra has been lambasted in the past for his "Franken-signs" which
grafted bits of campaign signs from his brother Joe's old campaign.  With a bit of paint, and even a smaller amount of artistry, Tom has made the signs his own.  This year, some of those very signs have re-appeared, but along with them are some additional quaint hand-painted signs that bear the same mark of homespun artistry.  The re-use of signs may indicate that Serra is as he says, an efficient and careful steward of funds, and maybe even an environmentalist in his quest to recycle.

Newer Serra signs, commercially produced, have been altered by lopping off the bottom of the sign, so as to remove information with which Serra is obviously uncomfortable.

It's recent City Hall lore that Serra, the majority leader on the Common Council, has been feuding with Mayor Dan Drew.   Serra, and his followers, who have been called "Serra-crats" are considered to be the old-school movers and shakers of the town's Democratic party.  Serra, who once was considered a Drew ally, has bristled at the arrival of several young turks, who have been accused of using public office in Middletown as a steppingstone to a political career beyond the city.

It's no surprise, then, that signs which indicate that Serra is running on the same ticket as Drew, have been altered, with a sharp instrument, to remove the reference to that association.

What's a little more surprising is that incumbent Council member Mary Bartolotta has also altered her signs in the same way.  These signs, on the cutting edge, seem to indicate a fracture in the party along old-school politics vs. new, and the perception of inequality along gender lines.

Hope Kasper, who was bounced from the endorsed, Democratic ticket, is now running as a write-in candidate.  Her signs are among those to be altered to form a shorter profile.  At least her name is spelled correctly, which is essential knowledge for anyone who plans to write in her name on the ballot.

First-time Council candidate Democrat Gene Nocera has very high recognition value in town with his years in public education as teacher and administrator.  When he ran for the Board of Education, he was the highest vote-getter of all candidates for all seats.  In the recent Democratic primary, he also came out on top, but he still sees the value of signs.  In fact, Nocera may have had more requests for lawn signs then he actually had signs to fill those requests.

So it appears that for some supporters, he relied on using mis-printed versions of his sign that have been hand-corrected.  These signs apparently were delivered with his name spelled "Norcera."  They've been altered with blue tape to remove the errant "r" and now read "No cera" which, loosely translated from the Italian, means "no wax."  Wax or no, Nocera's grammatical reputation continues to shine in the correct version of his sign which can be found across town.  Nocera indicated that the misspelled sign is courtesy of the Vinci Group, a paid professional political consultancy being used by local Democrats, who also spelled Carl Chisem's name wrong on his campaign signs.  They've apparently offered profuse apologies, but very little explanation as to why the would spell the most important words on a sign wrong.

On the under-ticket, signs for Republican candidates have not appeared on lawns, as of this writing, but Democratic under-ticket candidates have received their paltry distribution, and you can find these signs on the lawns of the candidates themselves, or huddled together on neutral property like traffic islands, where it appears there's safety in numbers.  Party-nominated underticket candidates are assessed a minimal donation when they are selected to run.  They must either pony up, themselves, or solicit donations to reach that minimum.  As their reward, they receive a small amount of signs to sprinkle around town.

Sandy's, the neutral ground survivor.
As far as the rules for placing lawn signs, a few years back there was great controversy when the town public works department was enlisted during election season to collect all signs, of all denominations, that were placed on the grassy berm between sidewalk and roadway.  In Middletown many people call that grassy strip, the "tree lawn," but in Ohio, it's apparently known as the "devil's strip" which may be altogether more appropriate during election season.  At first, the disappearance of signs from the tree lawn caused accusations of sign theft, but candidates soon found they could retrieve their missing signs at Public Works headquarters, and then safely plant them well within supporters' property lines.

This year, the rule seems not to be strictly enforced, with signs appearing curbside throughout the city, though in at least one "neutral" location in town, a traffic triangle on Ridge Road, political signs have been stripped an all that remains is a subtle advertisement for a local day care center.

In my pursuit of signs across town, I came across at least one that warmed my heart for an election that will take place next year.

But, all things being equal, I may give my vote to Stump Genie, if I can figure out with which party he's associated.


Anonymous said...

This was a fun read. Thanks, Ed.

Anonymous said...

Are Sandra's signs legal?

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anon: 9:43 I think you'll find your answer in Windsor Locks.

My name is Ed, what's yours?

Terry O'Rourke said...

The most important thing is to vote, I wish we had 100% vote every election, you can do that if they allowed you to vote when you get your tax bills. can bank on line and everything else why not vote

David Sauer said...

Ed, I'm not sure that necessarily does answer the question. The Supreme Court case that ended the Windsor Locks dispute held that it was unconstitutional to have size limits on signs that varied depending on the content. I don't think that Middletown Zoning regs vary the allowed size based on content, although the size allowed varies by zone.

The Supreme Court has stated that government may restrict the size of signs, including political signs, as a reasonable restriction on time, place and manner of free speech.

It is very difficult to craft restrictions to political signs that will withstand constitutional muster so most towns try very hard to avoid litigating the issue. Many parts of Middletown's zoning code regarding signs could not be constitutionally applied to political signs, but it is possible the size restrictions could. I have no idea whether the signs exceed the size allowed by the zoning code.

Catherine said...

Section 48 of the zoning covers addresses Temporary Signs, but no longer says anything about campaign signs.
If I recall, the total time period it used to allow (2004) was no sooner than 6 weeks before an election and taken down immediately afterward. Perhaps we need to add this in again.

It does, however, address construction signs, another type that people have noticed:
"The signs shall be removed within thirty (30) days of the beginning of the intended use of the project."

David Sauer said...

Restrictions on when political signs may be put up or must be taken down have consistently been struck down as unconstitutional.

Catherine said...

When signs are put up too far in advance of an event, people eventually turn them off from their perception.
The signs are no longer effective.