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Political battle is waged on the ground via campaign signage

on October 2, 2014

Glossy campaign fliers flood mailboxes. Front door knobs sprout hangers. Utility poles, chain-link fences and lawns are festooned with the names and faces of political candidates.

As emotions run high between camps supporting different candidates for mayor and City Council – and as canvassing efforts ramp up to match campaign spending – some Richmond residents have taken to expressing their displeasure with certain candidates via a political battle that plays out in Richmond’s neighborhoods and streets: The battle of campaign signage.

It’s a struggle fueled by more than $1 million in political funding, most of it Chevron money, and it swamps both neighborhoods and the Code Enforcement Unit’s email inboxes.

Last week, several banners in support of City Council candidate Donna Powers were vandalized with Chevron stickers, with several stickers plastered around and directly on Powers’ face to allude to Powers’ campaign being fueled by Chevron-funded campaign committee Moving Forward.

Meanwhile, Richmond residents have filed dozens of complaints with the Richmond Police Department’s Code Enforcement Unit, asking the RPD to remove signs posted illegally on public property.

“Just sitting here looking at my emails, I have six emails that have to do with political signage,” said Code Enforcement Manager Tim Higares over the phone Tuesday. “It happens every year and I’ve been here for seven.”

According to the Richmond Municipal Code, signs cannot be posted on utility poles, sidewalks, or public buildings or structures, and cannot be posted on private property without consent. Anyone wishing to post or distribute at least 25 signs must obtain a city permit to do so. But the local law is often ignored as candidates’ campaigns work to disseminate name recognition as widely as possible.

Ellen Seskin, a longtime resident of the North and East district, said her neighborhood listserv has been abuzz with angry discussion about the volume of illegally-posted signs in the neighborhood.

“Two or three weeks ago, we started noticing Nat Bates signs on street corners,” Seskin said. “Every corner had them on the planting strip. Then they started appearing on telephone poles. It seemed that as soon as we took them down, more appeared.”

Nat Bates’ campaign office did not return calls for comment.

Joshua Genser, who owns property at S. Garrard and Canal on which a Donna Powers banner was stickered, said he felt “righteously indignant” about the vandalism, noting that the banner was on private property.

“People that do this are hypocrites,” Genser said. “They would throw the letter of the law at Chevron if Chevron jaywalked, but it’s okay for them to violate the law because it’s Chevron – except it’s not Chevron, it’s me.”

Higares said that the Code Enforcement Unit responds to residents’ complaints about campaign signage, but that the unit’s response isn’t special to election season; the unit does periodic sign sweeps about twice per month throughout the year, removing signage for everything ranging from the Tattoo Expo to garage sales. According to Higares, the campaign signs happen to draw attention and ire because recognizable local candidates are involved.

“Just because of the nature of how many candidates are running, we’ll see an influx of signage,” Higares said, “and certainly it’ll get worse before it gets better.”


  1. Don Gosney on October 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    I’ve always been a stickler for campaign laws with a special emphasis on signage. I tell all of the candidates I work with that if I see their signs in illegal places that they may lose my support.

    for decades I’ve gone around at election time and photographed signs in both legal and illegal locations.

    I’m greatly bothered when I hear of people stealing signs, vandalizing them or destroying them. What’s even worse is that we have people that will try to justify the vandalism, the thefts or the destruction of these signs. They pontificate that the ends justify the means and they even try to justify their actions by suggesting that their moral superiority gives them the right to their actions.

    I’m also concerned about our neighbors who feel they have the right to remove signs they believe to be placed illegally. Instead of calling Code Enforcement to enforce the law, they’re taking it upon themselves to carry out their own form of justice. Isn’t that vigilante justice?

    • Mae Clark on October 3, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      The sheer imbalance in funding is a concern. I’d like to see corporations practice political tithing—give 10% to the opposition, but that’s not likely to happen.

      In the 2010 election, ALL the RPOA sponsored posters were in violation of the sign ordinance, (by virtue of their size) but despite my bringing photos and locations of the posters, CE didn’t remove any of them. What is the remedy when the law isn’t enforced? As Mary Wollstonecraft said, “arrogance on one side breeds stridency on the other.”

      How is removing these signs any different from removing litter or graffiti? Such abatement activity is nominally under the purview of CE, but I applaud neighbors who clean them up on their own.

      My own knickers aren’t in a knot about the posters, and I would never remove or deface one, as I think it is better to focus on the substance of the candidates.

      I do wish Moving Forward–which claims to support jobs for Richmond– would have at least used a Richmond-based printer for their campaign.

  2. […] at the corner of Barrett Avenue and Richmond Parkway in Richmond. Powers is among nine candidates running for three spots on the City Council. (Harriet Rowan/Richmond […]

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