- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

The wars of the yard signs are in full swing this year, as political campaign managers spend the final days before Election Day getting their candidates as much exposure on green space as they can.

Even if that means some of their opponents’ signs accidentally fall down or just disappear.

All 140 seats in Virginia’s General Assembly are on the ballot Tuesday, and volunteers for all of the candidates are working nonstop, marking every open street corner and highway median with brightly colored posters.

On a recent Saturday evening, Tom Hasman, a volunteer from Arlington, loaded up his car with 15 political signs and headed out with Albert C. Eisenberg, Democratic candidate for the 47th District seat in the House of Delegates.

“We placed about five signs in yards when the sky opened up, and it began to pour,” Mr. Hasman said. “We were wet, but we placed all 15 signs.”

This is the first year that Mr. Hasman worked on a campaign. As such, what goes on behind the scenes in the war of the signs is new to him.

Veteran sign planters have many tales of tricks and practical jokes that occur on the public grassy knolls that become political battlefields during election time in Northern Virginia.

“We have caught Republicans hiding in the bushes ready to steal the signs after we place them,” said Edna Frady, chairwoman for the Falls Church city Democratic Committee.

The trickery runs both ways.

“Sometimes, we will spot a car trailing us,” said James Parmelee, chairman for the Northern Virginia Republican Political Action Committee. “It is obvious, because the car has a bunch of Democratic bumper stickers. When we go back, the signs are gone.”

The tricks can become costly to campaigns. A wire-post sign costs $1.25; a single-stick, double-sided sign runs about 80 cents.

Volunteers and campaign managers who oversee the sign distribution try to make sure their signs make it through Election Day.

“We sometimes tape the bottom of the signs to make it harder to tear it off the post,” Mr. Parmelee said. “That way, if they really want the sign, they have to take the whole thing with them.”

Like most campaign volunteers, Ms. Frady said the signs play a vital role in helping a politician win.

“Ninety percent of people are not that political,” she said. “It is very important to get the name out in front and keep it out.”

Volunteers for both parties typically load up their cars with signs and can spend as many as 10 hours each week putting them up in front yards or on medians.

“They are going out at midnight so they can get around without traffic,” Ms. Frady said.

Sometimes overzealous volunteers get carried away with what others call intimidating but ineffective strategies.

Mr. Parmelee recalled a time when donors and members of the Republican committee, holding a fund-raiser for candidate Jeff Frederick, spotted a woman driving around the same neighborhood, putting up signs for the candidate’s opponent, Charles F. Taylor.

Mr. Parmelee said it was a foolish thing to do because the rural setting in Prince William County did not lend to the signs’ gaining additional votes for the opponent.

Ms. Frady revels in the Republicans’ missteps, too.

“What really gets me and tickles my funny bone is when I see Republican signs in the middle of Falls Church,” she said.

Falls Church prohibits political campaigns from posting signs on city property. “The [signs] are just going to be taken down,” she said with a hardy laugh.

While each jurisdiction has its own rules that govern where and when candidates can put up their signs, no one quite knows the rules.

“I have heard three different interpretations of the law,” Mr. Parmelee said. “People guess the sheriff should know the rules, so wherever his sign is, that is where they all go,” he said. “One phenomenon is that all the signs end up going in the same place.”

Jan Reeves, chairwoman of the Fairfax Democratic Committee, said all the signs are placed illegally.

She said volunteers invest precious time and energy placing the signs in the medians and inevitably, the next morning Virginia Department of Transportation crews decide to mow the grass.

“We all have our sign stories,” Mrs. Reeves said. “We stopped making signs bearing photos of the candidates. All the women candidates were ending up with mustaches and all the men ended up looking like pirates.”

Mrs. Reeves hopes for a better way to campaign. “I would like to see everyone get together and do away with the signs. Most people complain about them.”

Meanwhile, volunteers such as Mr. Hasman will continue, rain or shine, to canvas neighborhoods, medians and other grassy knolls, all in the name of their favorite candidate. In his case, Mr. Hasman appears to have a rocky road ahead of him.

“There are a lot of rocky yards in Arlington,” Mr. Hasman said. “You hammer and hammer and hammer, and the sign falls over as soon as you walk away.”

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