Councilman exasperated with signs posted illegally in election season Curran would attach civil penalties to offense

Campaign 1998

September 12, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Several Baltimore political candidates are accused of violating city laws and leaving their names stamped on the evidence.

Despite an ordinance prohibiting campaign posters from being attached to city utility boxes or poles, several campaigns have plastered their candidates' posters on city property.

Councilman Robert Curran is so fed up with the problem that he has drafted a bill that would attach penalties to the offense and prevent violators from seeking future office until they pay the fines.

"It's visual pollution," Curran said. "It's horrible."

On almost every corner in Curran's Northeast Baltimore district, city street light and traffic signal poles are pasted with political signs for candidates such as City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who is running for state Comptroller, Clerk of Courts candidate Pamela Carter-Goodwin and state Delegate William Goodin.

Penalty up to $500

Much like other minor city offenses, such as jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk, the sign offense is rarely enforced despite being a misdemeanor with a criminal penalty up to $500, Curran said. City police say they rarely receive complaints over signs, but turn any concerns over to the Baltimore Board of Elections to investigate.

City laws give the Public Works Department power to remove the signs. The department doesn't have crews removing illegal signs, but will respond to complaints from neighborhood groups, a department spokesman said.

Under Curran's proposal, candidates could have another $100 added and be prohibited from running for political office again until the fines are paid. Candidates would also be required to pay for removing the signs.

Curran hopes to enforce the city's political sign law by having violations addressed by the city's new environmental control board. The panel, created by City Council, recently held its first meeting and is empowered to issue citations to city polluters.

"What I'm trying to do is provide a civil remedy," Curran said. "I'm trying to make the law functional."

Pratt, a Democrat running for State Comptroller, ordered her campaign volunteers to remove the signs and keep them off city property. Political rivals placed signs atop Pratt's labeling them "illegal."

'Overzealous volunteers'

"Overzealous volunteers put the signs where they should not have," Pratt said. "It's hard -- how do you control overzealous volunteers?"

City laws allow signs to be posted solely on private property, whether it be lawns or buildings. Goodin, making his first bid for public office in the state's 43rd District, said he was unaware of the city law prohibiting posting on city poles.

Goodin's posters are particularly problematic, Curran said, because they are pasted with glue to the metal poles, making them difficult to remove.

Goodin opposes Curran's measure, claiming that it will inhibit grass-roots candidates who have difficulty raising large contributions and rely on fliers to attract voters. "It's just another way of keeping people who don't have money from running," Goodin said.

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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