Campaign mischief and accusations reflect signs of season

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:59

    SPARTA - The signs of the season are here; as loyal to the late weeks of October and early days of November as leaves tumbling from trees, pumpkin picking and pick-up football games. They are the campaign signs that sprout from the neighbor’s yard and grow along roadside curbs. Here one day, gone the next - much to the dismay of candidates running for office across the nation. The candidates in Sparta aren’t sure who to blame for the missing signs promoting their election to the open seat on the township council, nor are they happy about it. Kevin Pollison, a candidate for township council, said he and his wife put some signs up one Sunday morning, only to find them gone by the following day. He’s already spent about $500 on campaign signs this fall, has about 50 left, and is not sure if he will put any more up before the Nov. 1 election. “If I put them up now, they’ll disappear,” he said. “I’ve already been burned.” Ralph Flaherty, another candidate for township council felt the heat as well. Signs promoting his candidacy were placed throughout the township last week. About 20 were stolen within 24 hours and replaced with those promoting Pollison, said his campaign manager, Edward Sniffin. “This is an issue that we consider to be serious, that law enforcement should investigate at the local and state levels,” said Flaherty. “This should be an election about the issues and not about who can steal the most signs from someone else. It’s unnecessary.” The Flaherty campaign does not consider the missing signs a prank and “reflects poorly on a candidate whose platform calls for better cooperation and respect for all of Sparta’s citizens.” Sniffin said the Flaherty campaign filed complaints with the Sparta police and the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. “If Ralph has proof of anyone taking down signs from my campaign, I’d be happy to pursue it,” said Pollison. “I personally wish they’d catch anyone who did it.” Sparta Police Chief Ernie Reigstad said campaign signs are stolen every election. He said the culprits are sometimes the road crews that remove signs found within the jurisdiction of the state right-of-way area. But Flaherty said the signs were removed on Columbus Day, a state-observed holiday. “It happens everywhere,” said Reigstad. “There are often reasons other than sinister ones. But if it’s another candidate, it completely changes things.” Reigstad said the most common penalty is theft or criminal mischief, depending on the value of the signs taken. But charges of stealing signs were not the only accusations the candidates threw at each other. According to Sniffin, none of the signs promoting either candidate running against Flaherty comply with state election laws. He said those were reported with election authorities as well because they lacked attribution. Pollison said his signs have been corrected and replaced, but added that his opponents’ postings were also at odds with state regulations because they did not include campaign addresses.