Political signs pop up everywhere

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 3, 2004

Like little flowers, they sprout across the Lawrence County landscape every election year, popping up in reds and whites and blues and the occasional yellow or black or green.

Some are camped in sizeable groupings on lawns here and there. Others are singular.

Campaign signs: Candidates employ them, residents allow them and the public views them sometimes with curiosity, sometimes as visible extensions of their political leanings.

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In a yard near you

For Eric Bradshaw of Ironton, the campaign signs in the corner of his yard - and there is a row of them - are more than seasonal lawn ornaments.

They are little public statements about what - and who - he stands for.

"I was brought up a Democrat and we've got a good slate of candidates running this year," Bradshaw said. All of the signs in his yard, needless to say, tow the party line. Bradshaw said he has met a lot of people who have seen his signs and have asked him about one candidate or another. "The neighborhood pretty well knows I'm a Democrat but I do get questions from the ones that don't know," he said.

Across town on a vacant lot next to Mark Collins' law office, the signs bear the names of Republicans running for office this year - not a Democratic sign in the lot.

Debbie Collins, office manager for the law office on South Fifth Street, said

her boss doesn't discriminate against Democrats, and

has allowed Democrats to put signs at the corner of his city lot.

But the family's political legacy may tend to sway things. "Mark's dad was Oakley Collins and it seems like Republicans assume we'll have Republican signs," she said. "But if a Democrat would call, we would not tell them 'no'." Collins said her boss does encourage people to vote and has even encouraged people to register, but he does not tell them who to vote for.

For Darryl Jones, the signs in his yard are neither Democrat nor Republican; they are simply the people he knows and supports.

"I'm Democrat but I don't mind helping people. I try to vote for the best person." And he said he is surprised that he isn't approached more often about having signs in his yard, living on a corner lot in Ironton. "This is a busy corner. Traffic goes by here day and night," he said.

The candidates speak

In addition to the refrigerator magnets, the hair combs and the handbills, most candidates usually invest in signs, large and small, to get their name before the public.

Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens, who is running for reelection, said he purchased a few hundred signs at the start of the political season. "It's good for getting your name out, lets people know that you want the job," he said.

Is there a strategy to sign placement? "Not really," Stephens said.

"You try to get them where there is a lot of traffic. There's an old saying that. 'signs don't vote,' but its important because it shows people are supporting you."

His opponent, Mark Malone, may not agree with Stephens on political issues but does agree on the necessity of putting out those signs. "I think they're very important," Malone said. "It does give some visibility as far as getting your name out. And its part of what people expect

to see, to know the candidate is out there working."

Both candidates said they've placed signs in high visibility areas and in the yards of their supporters.

Missing signs

Some candidates of both political parties have complained that their signs have been either tampered with or stolen. Some campaigners and some supporters have complained about Ohio Department of Transportation workers removing signs from the side of roadways.

Charles Taylor, whose mother, Emma Sharp, lives

in Elizabeth Township, said a Russell Bennett for sheriff sign was taken from his mother's yard Wednesday and the family in still fuming about it.

"It was plumb up in my mother's yard and it was sitting- and I measured- 27 feet from the center of the road. She had other signs up and they didn't take them," Taylor said. "That's not right. People have freedom of speech. If you want to be a Democrat, be a Democrat. If you want to be a Republican, be a Republican. That's your God-given right. "

ODOT Lawrence County Transportation Manager Cecil Townsend said right-of-ways differ in the county, depending on the road, and whether there are any features such as hills or curves that could affect traveling safety.

"There is no place in Lawrence County with less than 50 feet of right of way and that is measured 25 feet on either side from the center line," Townsend said. "In some places the right of way is more."

Signs are always a no-no on U.S. 52 between the roadway and the state-owned fence - and signs are prohibited on the fence as well. "The right-of-way fence belongs to ODOT," he said.

Townsend said this year workers have been perhaps a bit more lax in taking down errant signs because they have had to contend with hurricane damage and have not had the time to be as diligent as in previous election years.

Townsend said he

does not have a crew that concentrates solely on taking down campaign signs and when they do take signs down, they try to be fair about the process. But often its a matter of judgment. "If we have made a mistake, we apologize," he said. "If a worker took down a sign they should not have, all I can do is say I'm sorry."

Townsend said he and his workers have seen it all as they ride the roadways such as campaign signs on utility poles and even signs posted to stop signs.

"If you drive throughout the county," Townsend said. "You pretty much see them anywhere."