Another political sign stealing incident made headlines. This time it was a “Sam Liccardo for Mayor” sign on a Willow Glen lawn. These thefts are becoming all too common and it’s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt.
In every political campaign, signs are used to allegedly bolster name identification. Every candidate insists on having them. Their supporters insist that the other candidate’s signs are having an effect on the electorate. And everyone complains that “their” signs are being systematically stolen by the opposition.
Government jurisdictions have gotten into the act by regulating and then failing to police their own laws. When Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio was caught taking signs, he opined that they were illegally posted and he was simply removing blight. But he wasn’t removing the blight of all signs, just those in which he disagreed.
When Rose Herrera’s husband was caught putting Jimmy Nguyen’s signs in a park dumpster—full disclosure: I ran Nguyen’s campaign—he claimed the signs were posted on his property as a prank.
Why didn’t he use his own garbage receptacle? His answer was the less than believable—he said he didn’t want to be accused of stealing signs. The fact that this very dumpster was staked out by those wanting to “catch” the thief, and that Nguyen’s signs had been previously found in the same park receptacle, make the statement incredulous.
Moreover, what kind of moron wastes signs “pranking” their opposition’s personal property.
What’s concerning is that an altercation took place in both of the aforementioned incidents. Councilmember Oliverio’s car was blocked and police were called. In the second case, a physical confrontation took place with the Councilmember Herrera’s husband alleging an assault while his pursuers made similar claims. In both instances, and the most recent one in Willow Glen, a videotape provided proof of the theft. Yet no one was arrested or punished in anyway, and the incumbents won re-election.
The problem is this type of behavior will continue and at some point a real assault, injury or death could occur—over a stupid sign!
The dirty little secret in all of this is that signs don’t work. Nobody ever voted for a sign or was influenced by a sign. Even when proven, many people refuse to believe it. But this isn’t climate change, where current residents haven’t lived through the consequences. When Paul Fong beat Dominic Caserta for State Assembly, Caserta signs were everywhere. Caserta lost. In the recent campaign for sheriff, Laurie Smith’s opponent had signs everywhere. He lost. (Full disclosure: I also ran Sheriff Smith’s campaign.) Madison Nguyen had the best sign campaign in the mayor’s race. And she lost.
The efficacy and cost of signs make them a wasted resource. For campaign consultants, they are easy money. The mark-up of 15 percent with little labor makes them very attractive as a profit center. But they don’t work, even if many people unfamiliar with the electorate continue to insist they are essential. Candidates, of course, love them, so they are here to stay.
They will continue be posted both legally and illegally. People from both sides of a race will continue to steal signs and deny wrongdoing, even when caught on video. Only when someone gets seriously hurt or worse will the body politic demand we clamp down on First Amendment rights and pass tougher laws regarding signage.
If you really want your side to win in a political campaign, encourage your opposition to buy more of what doesn’t work. Let them put their signs up and leave them alone. It will be to your benefit.
And for the record, my own long experience with signs informs my view. When candidate Rich Robinson ran for City Council in 1980, the consensus was he had the best sign campaign. So much so, he was hired by his former primary opponent to post signs in the general election. That candidate had the some strong sign game in the general election that year. He lost.
Of course, many of the signs were stolen.