Campaign sign do's and don'ts

campaign sign.jpg

Ooops. (And you KNOW he's not the only offender)

A couple of days ago on Capital Confidential we read about the flap going on around campaign signs in Albany. It seems overzealous Phil Steck supporters put up campaign signs a little early this year. Yeah, we didn't realize there were rules about these things either. What are they? Well, it turns out they vary from city to city. Albany City Clerk John Marsolais cleared up the rules for A-Town. And they're kind of surprising.

First of all, all of those signs you see in public places-- you know abandoned buildings, city parks, telephone polls, medians, highway entrances, the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb-- Marsolais says they're are actually there illegally. Yes--all of them. According to the city's sign ordinance, campaign signs are not allowed in public spaces. The city doesn't want the signs cluttering up the landscape.

So why are they there every election season? Well--because there are no campaign sign police. If someone complains about signs on city property, Marsolais says the folks from DGS will be dispatched to take them down. Usually if it's a first offense, the campaign can come and collect the signs. Repeat offenders don't get their signs back. Penalties could be assessed for the offense-- but they're usually not. Marsolais says the signs cost money, so keeping them is kind of a fine in itself. Still, the signs reappear in the same places.

Wait, that can't be right? If your campaign can afford to lose signs, you can keep breaking a city ordinance?

" We're really appealing to the campaigns to do the right thing. A few years ago we thought we had it in hand. We sent letters to all every candidate and it seemed to be working. Then a few weeks before the election we saw the signs again."

What about signs on private property? The ones you put on your lawn or in your window? According to the sign ordinance those signs shouldn't be up for more than 60 days. Marsolais says that is generally interpreted as 60 days before an election. By our count, 60 days before the September 9th primary = Friday, July 11th. So those Obama and McCain signs you've had up for three months now--ummm--yeah.

But if it's your property, shouldn't you be able to put up whatever sign you want--for as long as you want? Marsolais says there are folks who have complained that the sixty day regulation is unconstitutional. Actually, the sixty day rule for campaign signs is an exception to a city ordinance that requires a permit to put a sign on private property.

But again, there are no campaign sign police. "If the signs are on private property we won't come and take them or anything. We don't want to start having mass arrests of citizens for putting up lawn signs. That's where you depend on the campaigns to avoid distributing signs too early or to warn people about the ordinance."

So if the laws aren't really enforced, why have them at all? Marsolais says it's an effort to keep people from scarring the visual landscape. "Some people see the signs as a form of visual pollution. Not everybody wants to see 100 lawn signs on their block. People want to enjoy the landscape."

If you're one of those people, Marsolais suggests you refrain from taking matters (or campaign signs) into your own hands. "People put themselves at risk by ripping up someone else's sign. If someone sees you it could create a conflict." Instead he suggests calling your common council rep, or the clerks office. "We don't want to put people at risk."


That's right. I don't want no political lawns signs messin' up my neighborhood landscape. Front lawns should be reserved for one thing, and one thing only. Virgin Mary statues.

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