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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006 06:00 pm

On your mark, get set. . . get silly

The campaign season starts illegally in the North End

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The tip came last Friday from an alert reader: Illegal Chuck Redpath campaign signs are posted on Dirksen Parkway. This was easy enough to check. Sure enough, the caller was right. Out there, for the whole world to see, were campaign signs for Democrat Redpath in front of the Teamsters’ hall and the laborers’ union headquarters. Not only that, but state Rep. Raymond Poe, who holds the seat Redpath covets, also had a sign out, in a vacant lot next to King Pin Lanes on Dirksen. The nerve. It’s illegal to post campaign signs more than 60 days before Election Day in Sangamon County and the city of Springfield, where the illegal signs were posted. Yet Redpath and Poe, both veteran pols, claim ignorance. Each candidate says that he knew about the city’s 60-day rule but not the county’s. By Monday afternoon, the signs had been taken down. But not for long. The ubiquitous litter-on-a-stick that comes with each election season will be legal on Jan. 20. Whether it does a candidate any good is open to debate. “Does it really sway anyone?” asks Randy Armstrong, Sangamon County zoning and building administrator. “Maybe some people, it burns in their brain, and that’s the way they vote.”  Poe, a Republican who has no opponent in the March primary, has planted signs even though he won’t be in a real race until November. “It’s just to make sure voters know who’s running in the other party,” Poe says. “I’ve always been a big proponent of signs. Maybe it works; maybe it doesn’t. It’s very cost-effective.” Aside from public shaming, scofflaw candidates need not fear fines or other punishment. Armstrong says the county has never fined a candidate or anyone else for violating the 60-day rule. Few people complain unless a sign is obstructing the view of motorists. “Political signs, you hate to even deal with them,” he says. “It’s one we’d just as soon stay away from as long as they’re not a visibility problem.” Joe Gooden, Armstrong’s counterpart in the city, says that the city has asked that two illegal campaign signs, including one touting Redpath, be taken down, but regulators weren’t planning to do anything about the ones on Dirksen, which Gooden learned about from Illinois Times. Gooden explains that he would have to go out and confirm that an illegal sign was in fact in place. Then the city would have to issue notice to the property owner to take the sign down. The property owner must be given time to respond. All told, the process takes at least 10 days, so the city usually doesn’t bother with illegal campaign signs if opening day is less than two weeks away. “Really, it would be wasting our time,” he says. Noting that the city has received just two complaints, Gooden says that the city’s ordinance restricting campaign signs has started to take hold. “I think there’s been an improvement,” he says. “Two complaints is doing pretty good.” As a Springfield alderman, Redpath in 2000 introduced the city ordinance restricting political signs. Back then, Redpath said campaign signs are unsightly. He favored a 30-day rule and also proposed that the city be notified before any campaign signs go up. As a candidate, Redpath sings a different tune. His signs, he says, will reappear the moment they become legal. “Name recognition is the best thing you can have,” he says. “You need to remind people that there’s an election coming up and that you are a candidate. My signs were in front of the union halls. You want people to know where your support is.”
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