Campaign Notebook: Candidates’ Signs Taking a Beating

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PATERSON, NJ – What goes up, must come down. It’s a law of physics that applies everywhere on planet Earth.

It’s also somewhat of political tradition that applies to campaign signs in Paterson, where folks play hardball during election season. Political veterans say it happens every year. One group of campaign workers puts up campaign signs backing their candidate; then someone else takes the signs down.

“It seems like it’s happening a little more this year,’’ said City Clerk Jane Williams-Warren, adding that she’s received complaints from various candidates asking her to intervene. “I have no power to do anything about it,’’ she added.

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But Williams-Warren is sending all 21 candidates in the May 8 City Council races a letter asking them to tell their supporters not to vandalize the opposition’s signs. She said the letter also reminds the candidates about the ground rules that apply on Election Day, such as no campaigning inside polling sites, even if the polls happen to be set up within housing complexes.

One candidate, Luis Velez, has done more than simply call the city clerk to complain. On Wednesday, he said he went to police headquarters to file charges against a supporter of 5th Ward incumbent Councilman Julio Tavarez, accusing the man of taking a campaign sign from a barbershop window on Park Avenue.

“I’m tired of seeing my signs destroyed,’’ said Velez.

But Tavarez says he feels the same way. A few weeks ago, the councilman said he confronted a man who was using a box cutter to tear apart one of his signs. “It’s not like I filed a police report or anything like that,’’ Tavarez said.

In the 4th Ward, candidate Wilkin Santana says his signs also have been vandalized and he’s blaming supporters of Ruby Cotton. But Cotton says her signs have been torn down by vandals. She said she has suggested to supporters that they hang the signs close to their homes where they would be less accessible to vandals.

“I don’t think it’s the candidates themselves involved in this,’’ said Williams-Warren. “But some of their supporters get carried away.’’

Candidates are not allowed to post signs on public property, such as in city parks or on utility poles. Williams-Warren said she has received complaints about some candidates using vacant or abandoned buildings to hang signs. In those cases, she said, candidates are supposed to get permission from the properties’ owners.

Santana says the loss of his signs is particularly problematic because he already lost his makeshift campaign headquarters  - the offices of a River Street taxi company - when a city inspector told the owner that the building’s certificate of occupancy did not allow for the political operation there. Councilwoman Vera Ames-Garnes, the 4th Ward incumbent who is not seeking re-election and is backing Cotton, has said the city inspector went to check on the cab company because the owner also was buying gold at the business.  During that visit, the inspector stumbled upon Santana’s campaign headquarters and also banned that from the taxi business, Ames-Garnes said.

But Santana says the councilwoman’s explanation does not ring true. “They kicked me out, but they still have a sign up saying they’re selling gold,’’ he said.

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