- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Maryland officials ordered the removal of all political campaign signs from public property yesterday, following a particularly thorny campaign season in which many signs were stolen or vandalized.

State Highway Administration spokesman Chuck Gischlar said yesterday that the majority of the thousands of signs planted along state roads and highways already have been removed. The state’s deadline for removing campaign signs was yesterday.

“Even with the record turnouts at the polls, the [number of signs] look to be actually below par with previous years,” Mr. Gischlar said.

Campaign signs for President Bush and Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry were stolen and defaced throughout the state as tensions mounted during this year’s heated presidential race. Last month, an Ellicott City man who had a Kerry-Edwards sign planted in his front yard said someone fired a .45-caliber bullet at his house.

All signs should have been removed within 15 days of the Nov. 2 general election. Violators are subject to penalty, but disciplinary action is rarely needed, Mr. Gischlar said.

“Most of the signs we just discard, and some of the larger ones we may hold in storage until the owner is contacted,” Mr. Gischlar said. “Only in egregious instances do we issue a fine. Some people just forget they put the signs out there. The situation usually resolves itself.”

Some neighborhoods also are cracking down on residents who want to put up signs on their front lawns.

For example, officials in Montgomery County allow residents to post a sign on their property for 30 days, said Roger Waterstreet, a specialist in the county’s Department of Permitting Services. “That goes not just for political signs, but also for others such as yard-sale signs or for-sale signs. After 30 days, a permit is required.”

In the District, campaign workers have until Dec. 3 to remove political signs from public places.

Officials for the D.C. Department of Public Works (DPW) said campaign posters and fliers exposed to the weather can quickly become “unsightly litter” and erode the quality of life in a neighborhood and can eventually lead to crime.

“It’s the broken-window effect,” said department spokeswoman Mary Myers. “If a rock is thrown through a window and nothing’s done, soon all the windows will be broken. The litter [from excess posters] can serve as a gateway for more egregious sorts of crime.”

So far, DPW has not received any complaints about an excess of signs, Miss Myers said.

City law requires all political campaign posters be removed from public space within 30 days after the general election. After that, the former candidates are required to pay a $35 littering fine for each of their signs that haven’t been taken down.

Inspectors with the department’s Solid Waste Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) issue most of the violation notices for poster infractions.

Officials in Virginia do not set a deadline for removing political signs.

Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), said a letter reminding campaign offices to remove the signs usually suffices.

“We don’t have the resources to go out and pick up every illegal sign,” Miss Morris said. “As long as it’s not a big banner hanging over a bridge, or a sign on a highway right-of-way, blocking a stop sign or impeding progress, we don’t go out after it.”

Miss Morris said the removal of political signs has never been a pressing issue, and most of them are gone a few days after the elections.

“We get a lot of complaints about the signs during the campaign season,” Miss Morris said. “Some people see them as litter, some don’t like to see the signs of the [candidate] that they don’t like. But, by and large, it gets cleaned up pretty quickly afterwards.”

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