As election nears, vandals set sights on political signs

Carroll County

October 20, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Ken Girardini woke up to an unpleasant surprise Monday morning: Someone had set fire to his John Kerry campaign signs at the end of his Sykesville driveway.

It was the latest incident in a rash of political signs being vandalized and stolen in Carroll County.

"It sort of makes you mad, and it's also sort of scary that people could be so intolerant of somebody else's views that they would do something like that," said Girardini, 46, a self-employed metalwork artist and registered Democrat. "It may be the destruction of a couple of yard signs, but in the bigger picture it's about not letting people have their views."

He thinks the two Kerry signs were burned sometime between 9 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Monday. Girardini discovered the damage when a friend visiting Monday morning saw the signs. To guard against future vandals, Girardini was making a metal sign, which he hoped to have on his lawn today.

"Within the last month is when the rash really started, especially with vandalism," said Capt. Clarence Lust of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office. He said signs from both parties have been broken off wooden posts, torn and vandalized in other ways.

Lust said the Sheriff's Office is working with Howard County police to see whether any of Carroll's incidents are tied to similar acts there. In Howard County, a Randallstown couple were arrested this month and accused of using a bayonet to cut the centers out of two Bush/Cheney campaign signs on U.S. 40 near Ridge Road in Ellicott City.

Howard County police said there have been numerous reports of Republican signs being damaged or removed in Ellicott City.

Lust said, however, that some of the Carroll County thefts might be the result of a misunderstanding about laws regarding where the signs can be posted. Lust said political signs are not allowed on county or state rights of way, so if road crews see them, the signs will be removed.

Although the southern end of the county has reported the most sign thefts and vandalism, Lust said incidents also have occurred in Westminster and other municipalities.

Dr. Robert P. Wack, a Westminster councilman, said someone recently smashed the wire frame of the Kerry sign he had in his front lawn but that the plastic sign survived.

He replaced the frame as well as a sign for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski that disappeared weeks ago.

Laura O'Callaghan, chairwoman of the Democratic Central Committee in Carroll County, estimates that several hundred Democratic signs have disappeared since presidential signs were posted beginning Sept. 18. Although she said signs are stolen in every election, it still has a negative effect.

"It makes people very angry and suspicious of the other party," she said. "I think both parties have suffered. It damages the system and the process by not respecting it, by saying people don't have the right to put their views out there."

Republicans, who outnumber registered Democrats by 20,000 in the county, have not been immune to the damage.

David Jones, Carroll's Republican Central Committee chairman, said two 4-foot-by-8-foot signs were torn down at homes off Route 27 near Taylorsville. Signs also have been vandalized in Woodbine. Smaller yard signs have been marked by red spray paint with a circle and a line through the president's name, he said.

"We received several calls from our constituency where they had signs on their property removed or damaged," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines, who is in his fourth term representing District 5, which includes Carroll and Baltimore counties. "It happens every election cycle."

He said the vandalism picks up at the end of October.

"Unfortunately, the election cycle is right during Halloween. At the end of October there is usually some vandalism because of the pagan holiday, as I call it," Haines said.

Overall, he does not think there have been any more losses this year than in past elections, nor does he think it makes a difference when votes are cast.

"I've been in four elections and I've always had some signs removed, a few spray-painted," he said. "I don't think it had any impact at all."

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