Sign Stealing: An Election Season Tradition Like No Other

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.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.

12 Comments

  1. > full disclosure: I ran Nguyen’s campaign—

    I wouldn’t call that full disclosure, Rich.

    Eight by ten color glossy photographs with full frontal nudity. That would be full disclosure.

    But, I’m not saying that’s really necessary. In fact, knowing that you ran Nguyen’s campaign and your personal remorse for involvement in any past campaigns is probably sufficient disclosure for the moment.

  2. Anyone getting facts from this article for the first time regarding incidents they have never heard about should know that Mr. Robinson is extremely biased owing to his entrenched employment-related alliances with South Bay politicians.

  3. I consider myself an impartial third party and all I got out of this is that signs are probably not worth the trouble. That seems fairly candidate neutral, so give it a rest people.

  4. Heh. Everyone cheats on signs Rich. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to. Whether it’s where they’re putting them, or without permission. Removing them. Vandalizing them. Opponents will go down each others streets trying to taunt them. The smart candidate doesn’t do these things themselves, they get a campaign manager or consultant to works their supporters into a frenzy to go the extra mile on their own. Sometimes candidates/managers don’t even realize they’re doing that.

    Question is do we really talk about it, or pretend this is a rare occurrence?

    • > Question is do we really talk about it, or pretend this is a rare occurrence?

      Rare or not, it’s disrespectful of voters and is just another sneaky way of putting a heavy thumb on the scale of the election process.

      Sign stealers are the vermin of electoral politics.

      Sadly, the emerging ethic seems to be “everybody does it” and “the other guy is stealing my signs so I’ll steal his”.

      Politics at its most tribal.

      My tribe is good. The other guy is an enemy tribe. Raid their villages, Kill their children, Steal their women. Symbolically for now.

  5. >…just a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt.
    You’ll put your eye out!

    I don’t know if it’s by design but at first glance the Cortese signs look like they say “Mayor Cortese”. This might be to capture the clueless bloc of voters by capitalizing on the incumbent advantage even though Cortese is not an incumbentt. Smart Democrat politicians know that you can never have too many ignorant voters.

  6. I’VE ALWAYS SAID, “IF MY LIPS COULD TALK”.
    WELL HERE IS THAT MOMENT.
    I WAS HELPING A YOUNG MAN RUNNING FOR CITY COUNCIL AGAINST NORA COMPOS.HE HAD ALLOWED ME TO POST WARNINGS ABOUT LEAD EXPOUSURE OF THAT NEIGHBORHOOD’S CHILDREN, ON THE BACK OF HIS FLIERS. I PAID FOR THE PRINTING, AND HIS VOLENTEERS WENT DOOR TO DOOR LEAVING THEM IN MAIL BOXES ETC.
    HIS DAD WAS DISTRIBUTING THESE FLIERS TO THE VOLENTEERS.
    HE DID A SURVEY CHECK, AND SAW NORA’S VOLENTEERS FOLLOWING BEHIND REMOVING HIS FLIERS AND REPLACING THEM WITH NORA COMPOS FLIERS.
    INDISBELIEF, HE FOLLOWED THESE FEMALE VOLLENTEERS UNTIL A BLACK SUV PULLED UP TO THEM. THEY THEN HANDED THE DRIVER, THE STOLEN FLIERS. A FEMALE DRIVER.
    THIS WAS A WELL ORCASTRATED SCHEME.
    THEY CROSSED THE LINE WHEN THEY DID THIS, BECAUSE THEY KEPTED SOME VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION FROM GETTING TO THE PARENTS ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN’S HEALTH ISSUES.
    THOSE OF YOU THAT HAVE FOLLOWED MY POSTINGS ON SAN JOSE INSIDE THESE PAST MANY YEARS ABOUT THE MHC AND THE NEPOTISUM THAT STILL EXISTS IN DISTRICT 5 KNOW THAT I HOLD NO QUARTER TO THESE SLEEZE BAGS, OR THEIR SUPPORTERS.
    ALL THESE HOT SHOT “VENDIDOS” THAT CLAIM TO BE THE HISPANIC LEADERS, ARE NOTHING MORE THEN, SELF SERVING, INDIVIDULES, THAT ARE BETTER LEFT OUT OF TOWN OR UNDER THAT ROCK THEY FOUND, WHEN WE TURNED THE LIGHTS ON.
    I WILL CLOSE , BY SAYING THAT AT THE MOMENT, THERE ARE A LOT OF OSTRIGES WITH THEIR HEADS IN THE POLITICAL SAND BOX.
    THIS SIGN STEALING OF SAN LICARDO’S SIGNS B.S, IS BUT KINDERGARDEN B.S. I FIND THAT DISCUSTING. AS A LONG TIME CONTRIBUTOR OF OUR FAIR CITY. LET’S GET DAVE IN THERE AND FLUSH THE LAST SEVERAL KNUCKEL HEADS, THAT HAVE LEAD OUR FAIR CITY INTO THE ABYSS.
    LEONARD MCKAY, TAUGHT ME TO CHRONICAL EVERY THING I ENCOUNTERED IN MY LIFE TIME, HERE IN SAN JOSE .
    NOW THAT MY LIPS ARE TALKING, I HOPE TO KEEP THINGS INTERESTING
    THE VILLAGE BLACK SMITH

  7. Rich…like the crook Dave Cortese…. You are corrupt and an excuse maker. That is why you write on this blog….. To make yourself feel better and self proclaim yourself as an expert. Your no expert just a self described two time loser. Cortese is a crook and the FBI will uncover it. Want to discuss his role with Rural Metro? Or should we keep that quiet for now?

  8. Hey, Mr. Laurie Smith’s Campaign Manager — let’s talk about a real issue other than the rampant campaign sign stealing that went on by Laurie supporters over the last months. You’re always demanding transparency and honesty from the Republicans — it seems we just found yet ANOTHER Sheriff’s Advisory Board member wearing state issue orange. When are you going to tell your perpetual candidate that the public deserves some transparency and to release an annual list of the SAB members, the results of their fund raising efforts, the proof they’re paying for the use of taxpayer owned equipment like the helicopter (to including the cost of the shortened time between maintenance due to their use) and what the funds raised at these events specifically go to and how much is in holding for the SERT project that they’ve been raising money for for over a decade now?

    Yeah, let’s see some of that integrity from your own camp that you’re always demanding from others. Don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath.