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Political signs an issue in campaigns

COURTESY PHOTO
Part of the bipartisan group protesting in the Center in October 2016 over the theft and destruction of political lawn signs.

As the November 6 election approaches, there are complaints of lawn signs being stolen or vandalized around the Island. Leaders of both political parties have taken stands against such actions, but the problem has persisted, they say.

“It was very bad in 2016 during the Presidential campaign,” said Heather Reylek, chairwoman of the Shelter Island Democratic Committee. Back then, the Democrats and Republicans held a bipartisan rally in the middle of town to affirm First Amendment rights, hoping to put an end to the situation.

Some thought that would improve the bad behavior. But, “this year is at least as bad as 2016,” Ms. Reylek said.

Her concerns were echoed by Shelter Island Republican Chairman Gary Blados, who said “I don’t know why people feel the need to take somebody’s personal property. It’s ridiculous.

During the presidential election, I had people tell me they were afraid to put up signs, and several people actually requested rope so they could tie them to trees. It’s absurd that people on either side of the aisle have to go to such lengths to protect signs.”

The Reporter checked with Police Chief Jim Read, who said “There have been no residents reporting signs being stolen or vandalized.” But the police have removed some signs placed on public property, such as the school and on the American Legion grounds, as well on private proterty at the homeowners’ requests.

Ms. Reylek pointed out that only the homeowner can file a police report if their sign is vandalized or stolen. “But some residents, especially elderly ones, don’t want the trouble of filing a complaint,” she said.

There has been a problem, acknowledged by both sides, of signs being placed in areas where they were not permitted. “I don’t believe this was done with malice on either side,” said Mr. Blados. “I think people were just not aware of the rules. For instance, I had to take signs down on town property and signs on other people’s property. I think people see signs peppered along the main roads off the Island and want to do the same here.”

Ms. Reylek said she was concerned that malicious behavior locally is a “reflection of the divisiveness in the country.” She pointed out that there was no indication that youthful pranksters were at fault — “It’s really unfair to blame kids” — but “grown-ups in cars in the dead of night” had been seen tampering with signs.

After Tuesday’s election, the signs should disappear. Ms. Reylek reminds homeowners to take their signs down then. Mr. Blados said it can’t come too soon for him.

“Personally, I am not a fan of any campaign signs,” he added. “I don’t think anybody’s opinion is changed by signs and it creates waste and potential discourse between neighbors. I would be happier if candidates took their sign budget and made joint donations to local charities.”

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