Haverstraw candidates accuse incumbents of undermining campaign sign efforts
BY MICHAEL RICONDA
West Haverstraw – In the latest conflict over campaign sings in Haverstraw, two Republican candidates are claiming town officials are selectively enforcing local laws to remove their signs and limit their ability to challenge Democratic incumbents.
Town supervisor candidate John Pennell and Highway superintendent candidate David Barbera both suggested supporters of incumbent Supervisor Howard Phillips and highway superintendent candidate George Wargo are using town and village regulation prohibiting campaign displays on public properties and private right-of-ways to take down their signs.
Pennell criticized the law primarily as a limit on Constitutionally-protected free speech and an infringement on the rights of property owners who wish to place signs on their right-of-ways, calling the issue “peculiar to Haverstraw.”
However, he also argued the law was selectively enforced, with far more Republicans being targeted than Democrats and non-campaign signs for businesses and local events remaining untouched.
“That law is only enforced during the political season,” Pennell said. “The issue is equal enforcement of the law, which certainly isn’t followed at all.”
Typically, after removal by code enforcement officers, the signs are brought back to the West Haverstraw Department of Public Works. The Rockland County Times was able to identify the collected signs at the DPW. Though there were signs for both Democrats and Republicans, most appeared to be from Pennell and Barbera’s campaigns. No Phillips or Wargo signs were visible.
Other collected signs included those of former supervisor candidate Rita Louie, Supreme Court candidate Judge John Colangelo, Clarkstown supervisor incumbent Alex Gromack, and county executive candidates David Fried and Ed Day.
In spite of his belief the removals constitute a limitation on speech, Pennell explained the matter was more frustrating than fatal.
“I think it’s aggravating for those of us that are running campaigns,” Pennell said. “It’s an annoying distraction for those people who are trying to express their political views.”
Phillips said in his jurisdiction the Highway Department acts in accordance with the law on the matter. He said the town’s building inspector had been receiving calls for signs being placed on properties without resident or business permission and for sight distance complaints stemming from signs which blocked road visibility.
“Our sign law is very simple,” Phillips said. “You must have permission from the property owner to put a sign on the property.”
Phillips also argued the Village of West Haverstraw was forced to take down charity signs on at least one occasion under threat of lawsuit. He explained the town and villages typically permitted charity signs on public and business properties for a limited time.
Village of West Haverstraw Mayor John Ramundo could not be reached for comment.
The accusations are not the first of their kind. During the lead-up to the summer primaries, Democratic primary candidate Rita Louie suggested supporters were being pressured into removing her signs from their property in an effort to limit her visibility to constituents.
Phillips argued Louie’s signs were being improperly placed on public properties such as the Haverstraw Kings’ Daughter Library.
Also of note, Pennell’s lease on a large billboard on Railroad Avenue was not renewed when the owner of the site declared he would no longer host political signs at the location. Pennell had a prominent sign, which read, “End One Party Rule.”
Local sign laws generally are a source of controversy as they implement standards few property owners follow, thus leaving enforcement at the whim of authorities who may have their own agenda. For example, the West Haverstraw sign law states that no sign can be within 20 feet of a blacktop road. A simple survey of local properties, however, finds that virtually 100 percent of signs posted are within 20 feet of a road.
Further highlighting the problem of unenforceable sign laws, in 2012 Stony Point Supervisor Geoff Finn passed a 14-page sign law, including regulations that no signs may be closer than 10 feet to the road and no property may have more than one sign per candidate. However, as the 2013 campaign season arrived, most of Finn’s signs were placed within 10 feet of the road and many properties had two or more Finn signs on their lawn.
As a result of Finn ignoring his own regulation, the Republican ticket also chose not follow the statute. As of yet, the Town of Stony Point has not had a problem with selective enforcement of the sign law, as the regulations have been mutually ignored by all candidates.