Sheriff won't campaign at intersections

August 28, 1994|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writer

The Harford County sheriff took aim at popular political campaign methods this week, announcing that he will shun street corner waving and door-to-door neighborhood canvassing for the next two weeks before the Sept. 13 primary election.

Sheriff Robert E. Comes, the Democratic incumbent, said in a letter to The Sun that "there have been car accidents because of the distraction" created when candidates wave at passing motorists at heavily traveled intersections, "during the day and rush hour in particular."

He urged all political candidates to "use extreme caution. . . . Public safety is first and foremost."

Sheriff Comes also said he and his campaign workers will stop making telephone calls and knocking on doors to enlist voters' support before the primary. Such campaigning is inconvenient and disruptive to voters who are trying to relax with their families over Labor Day weekend and the Jewish observance of Rosh Hashana on Sept. 6, the sheriff said.

In the same letter, headed "Culture, Community and Politics," Sheriff Comes asked all candidates in the county to ensure that costly political campaign signs are not disfigured or removed from property without the owners' permission.

Joseph P. Meadows, an assistant state's attorney who is running for sheriff unopposed in the Republican primary, called Sheriff Comes' safety concerns unwarranted.

"I have been out waving to motorists for several months and have seen no accidents or near-accidents," Mr. Meadows said. "It is obvious the sheriff doesn't want to do the campaign work."

Mr. Meadows also said Sheriff Comes does not like knocking on doors because he "doesn't want to hear questions from voters about his record in office the last four years."

"I didn't say I won't be out there for the general election," Sheriff Comes countered. "I'm just not going to disturb people on their holiday."

Questioned about his safety concerns, Sheriff Comes said he has received phone calls from supporters who expressed fears about potential accidents caused by campaigners.

"You have to remember that only 50 percent of all traffic accidents are reported to police," he said.

The sheriff said one of his campaign workers had mentioned an accident related to a candidate waving to motorists.

Sheriff Comes said he didn't know the details. "The sheriff's office hasn't handled any such accidents, but the state police take care of all accidents on the state roads," he said.

State police Sgt. J. D. Thomas of the Bel Air barracks said he was unaware of any accidents caused by waving politicians in Harford County.

"I can't confirm or deny if there have been any such accidents," he said. "It's nearly impossible to capture information like that. If we had a specific intersection, we could check on the recent number of accidents at that location."

One busy location for politicians is Route 24 near the entrance to the Constant Friendship community in Abingdon, near Interstate Nancy Jacobs, a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates in District 34, has staked out that site on most mornings since April.

"I have not witnessed any accidents while I've been out waving two or three mornings a week," she said.

Mrs. Jacobs said she attended a class on political sign waving sponsored by the Republican National Committee in Annapolis early this summer.

"Safety is my prime concern, too," she said. "I learned to avoid certain types of intersections.

"It is best to stand beyond an intersection, rather than right at the corner, so drivers see you while they are pulling away and are not concentrating on stopping."

Mrs. Jacobs said she stands well off the shoulder of the road, in the grass, so she is visible to motorists on Route 24 and the I-95 ramp.

"Some candidates are not wealthy enough to afford billboards with a photograph," she said. "We have to rely on sign waving to let voters know who we are."

Mrs. Jacobs said she thinks it is mostly young vandals who knock down or steal signs, but she cited an instance in which a car ran across a friend's lawn to demolish two of her campaign signs.

Mr. Meadows said he has had a few signs stolen or knocked down.

"I picked up two of my signs at the State Highway Administration on Churchville Road because they were put up in violation of right of way restrictions," he said.

Mrs. Jacobs said that erecting a campaign sign behind a telephone pole line is generally safe, but that she discovered a couple of her signs violated restrictions because of an unusual 75-foot right of way along Route 23 north of Bel Air.

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