Workers for Oz Bengur, a political newcomer running for Congress, plastered scores of red and yellow campaign signs in Towson during the weekend, but quickly removed them yesterday in response to complaints.
David Brown, Bengur's spokesman, said the signs were posted by "overzealous campaign workers" who were instructed to drop off signs at the homes of people who had requested them. The last ones were removed from telephone poles on York Road yesterday afternoon.
County law prohibits the posting of campaign signs in the public right-of-way along roads, which typically includes utility poles. The state prohibits campaign signs along highways - whether in the right of way or not - more than 45 days before a primary or general election. The signs were posted Friday, 95 days before the Sept. 10 primary, along York and Dulaney Valley roads.
Bengur said he is upset that people have fixated on signs instead of campaign issues.
County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger "says he wants to bring money back for roads and alleys, and I'm talking about prescription drug plans and money for smaller class size and school construction," Bengur said, referring to his opponent for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd District. "I went personally and took those signs down. If that's what it takes to get people's attention, maybe I ought to be putting more signs up. I'm hot about it."
Bengur said he would try to prevent signs from being posted illegally in the future.
Because Julius Henson, a campaign consultant working for Bengur, has been accused of sign law violations in the past, a listener asked Bengur in a May 7 appearance on the Marc Steiner Show on WYPR whether he would pledge to obey such laws.
He responded: "We're going to stick by the campaign finance laws. We're going to stick by the letter and the spirit of all the laws regulating the use of signs and other material."
Ruppersberger called the posting "unfortunate."
"I guess this is Mr. Bengur's first campaign, and maybe he's just not aware that you don't conduct yourself that way, and you don't get your name out by putting litter around neighborhoods that we're trying so hard to keep clean and nice for our citizens," Ruppersberger said.
Bengur and Ruppersberger will face each other in the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, which includes part of Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties. Former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley is the only Republican in the race.
State Highway Administration officials said they hadn't received complaints about the signs, but Arnold Jablon, Baltimore County's director of Permits and Development Management, said he got a few. He said he instructed one of his code enforcement officers to contact the Bengur campaign to explain the law and insist the signs be removed.
Jablon said he has also gotten a few complaints about signs for a County Council candidate, Noel Levy, along Liberty Road, and he expects more such problems as the election season goes on.
Jablon said he gives candidates the opportunity to remove the signs before issuing a citation. If they refuse, they can be fined up to $200 per sign per day. Gary Bowman, real property supervisor for the State Highway Administration, said candidates can be fined $110 per sign in the state right-of-way.
Bengur's opponent has had his own problems with campaign workers. On the day Ruppersberger announced his candidacy, workers passed out brochures and bumper stickers he paid for with funds raised while he was contemplating a gubernatorial bid, an apparent violation of federal campaign finance law.
Ruppersberger apologized for the error and blamed it on the exuberance of his volunteers and the chaos of the campaign's first day. He said yesterday that his campaign is in the process of responding to a complaint about the incident filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Community and government watchdogs say Henson has frequently been connected to sign law violations. In 1998, a candidate he worked for was fined $8,000 for posting signs along Liberty Road, and community activists in Baltimore say they are constantly pulling his candidates' signs down from median strips and telephone poles in the city.
Brown said the illegal posting "has nothing to do with Julius Henson."
David S. Desmarais, a member of Baltimore-based Communities for Clean Campaigns, said sign laws are important because illegal postings turn into litter as signs fall down, and because candidates should be held accountable.
"We expect elected officials to be accountable and to obey the law," he said. "That's the biggest thing for me."