What Signs Tell Us About Candidates CAMPAIGN 1994


September 04, 1994|By ELISE ARMACOST

Romie "Sonny" Songer is no fool. The West Virginia native and Republican Anne Arundel County Council hopeful knows whose campaign signs to copy.

Songer signs have sprung up all over Pasadena, a portion of the 3rd Council District, bearing his smiling, mustachioed visage. They also bear a familiar slogan, "The other homegrown candidate," embossed over a familiar symbol, green grass.

The original homegrown candidate, Tom Redmond, a Democrat in the 3rd District, doesn't take offense at the plagiarism. Quite the contrary. "I guess it's a compliment to me."

Indeed, the Redmond placards are as close to art as campaign signs can get. Compare them to other signs the next time you ride around.

The worst are so flimsy they look as if they'd blow away with the next breeze. Some, like sheriff candidate John Moran's chartreuse-and-black affairs, use such god-awful colors that you hate to look at them, which, of course, defeats the whole purpose.

Others are too wordy. Some candidates have forgotten that the human eye can only take in so much as it zips by at 55 mph.

Take Pasadena Councilman Carl G. "Dutch" Holland's signs. You have to drive by three of them before you can figure out the little writing at the top: "Promises Made, Promises Kept." Then you have to drive to another one to read the little cursive writing on the bottom: "Thank you very much for your support."

The "time" theme is very big in political campaigns, which is nothing new. Four years ago we had Councilwoman Diane Evans' slogan, "The time has come," with nifty refrigerator magnets in the shape of an alarm clock, and District 7 council candidate John Klocko's "Time for a change," with a clock drawn inside the last "o" in Klocko.

This year Mr. Klocko once again has turned to time imagery (which, considering his name, is not surprising). His new slogan is, "It's time for strong leadership." The "o" with the clock remains.

We also have "Time for Ted" Sophocleus, which is kind of catchy, thanks to alliteration. The trouble with "Time for Ted," however, is that it lends itself to abuse by the county executive candidate's detractors, who have been known to change it to, "Time's Up Ted."

County Executive candidate Bob Agee's signs (Bob Agee: An Executive Candidate) look professional, though many people wonder what the big red check mark stands for.

For best use of the minimalist effect, the award goes to District 31 House of Delegates candidate John Leopold. His signs consist of one word -- "Leopold" -- on a cherry-red field. Perfect for branding a name into people's brains. And because they don't specify what he's running for, Mr. Leopold, who often doesn't decide what he's running for until the last minute, can use them anytime. These are the same signs he used four years ago when he ran for state Senate.

Democratic sheriff candidate George Johnson's slogan is a winner: "For the people. Not for the money." Somehow he manages a dig at Sheriff Robert Pepersack, who asked for a humongous pay raise last year, without sounding mean-spirited.

And I love this line from Register of Wills candidate Candace Beckett: "Where there's a will, there's a better way."

Still, nobody's campaign paraphernalia matches Mr. Redmond's logo, which appears on hundreds of signs and his truck, virtually a moving billboard.

They're done in bold red and green -- eye-catching, but not gaudy. Not too many words, just "Tom Redmond for County Council" in big letters, easy to read. And at night, they reflect. His slogan, "The homegrown candidate," sticks in the brain, conjures a pleasant image and contains not an ounce of cliche.

Even more than the design, it's the craftsmanship that puts these signs in a class by themselves. Nothing flimsy here. The double-sided four-by-sixes, made by Gable Signs and Graphics of Pasadena, are made of wood and hung on green wooden posts. Redmond volunteers make the smaller signs on an assembly line, mounting cardboard signs on plywood, bolting them together and hand-painting the posts green.

So far Mr. Redmond says he has spent $30,000 on the signs. That is an enormous amount to spend on an entire County Council campaign, not to mention on signs alone.

"But we raised a lot of money, and if people support you they want you to win," Mr. Redmond says. He figures the right signs can help.

"Some signs are just so disgusting. We tried to make them look nice, not something ugly that people wouldn't want in their yards. Even the little ones we stick in somebody's yard, we want them to look neat. To me, [the signs] show the kind of image you project. If they're sloppy, everything you do is sloppy."

Mr. Redmond is expected to win the Democratic primary; Mr. Songer is considered a long shot against Mr. Holland in the GOP primary. But what if Mr. Songer managed to pull this off? Then we'd have "the homegrown candidate" versus "the other homegrown candidate."

May the best sign win.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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