Ban on large campaign signs proposed

September 19, 2006|By John Fritze | John Fritze,sun reporter

Baltimore's City Council banned pizza menus from vestibules. It condoned tearing down advertisements promoting cheap houses and work-from-home jobs. Now the council is faced with a dose of its own medicine - a bill that would regulate political yard signs.

Responding to an increase in larger-than-ever political signs that have proliferated in some neighborhoods during this year's gubernatorial campaign, Councilman Robert W. Curran introduced a bill yesterday to ban political signs larger than 16 square feet in residential neighborhoods.

"Not only are they unappreciated ... they're unsightly," Curran said yesterday. "We've never seen 4-by-8 signs in the neighborhoods before."

Both gubernatorial candidates have moved beyond the traditional yard sign this year into mammoth-sign territory, erecting 32-square-foot billboards in front yards. The larger signs gained attention last month when a 4-foot-by-8-foot sign for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. went up across the street from Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's home north of Herring Run Park.

Curran's Northeast Baltimore council district includes O'Malley's home, but Curran said the ban was inspired by a wider problem. Other jurisdictions in Maryland, including Montgomery County, already regulate the size of political signs, he said.

For residents who are already sick of the signs - too bad. Curran's proposal is not expected to receive a hearing until after this year's Nov. 7 general election. Even if a hearing is scheduled, the ban would not go into effect until 2007. That year also happens to be when City Council seats, and the mayor's office, are up for election.

Supporters of the legislation say the signs are an eyesore. In other quality-of-life initiatives approved earlier this year, the council banned the use of leaflets to advertise, among other things, pizza parlors and Chinese restaurants. The council also gave neighborhood organizations more power to rip down illegal signs stuck into median strips and elsewhere.

"I think people are annoyed at those signs," O'Malley said of the political signs.

An O'Malley spokesman said the campaign uses a range of sign sizes, the largest of which is the 4-foot-by-8-foot sign. The spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese, said it was "reasonable" for local jurisdictions to regulate the maximum size of a political sign.

Not everyone agrees. Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway, who won re-election last week, has hanging near his home along Liberty Heights Avenue what might be the city's largest political sign - an 8-foot-by-20-foot behemoth. Conaway said political signs are the only way for candidates who cannot raise millions of dollars to put their name in front of the public.

"It's an unnecessary bill," Conaway said. The signs "are up for such a short period of time. I think it's going to hurt people who can't raise a lot of money."

Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman, agreed.

"Signs and their size do matter," said DeLeaver, adding that the campaign is not taking a position on the council bill. "Signs, whether it's a lawn sign or a 4-by-8, are one of the most sincere expressions of support for a candidate."

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