Signs of the times

City candidates find pro-Trump messages spray-painted on campaign signs
By Nicholas Johnson | Aug 30, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson One of Mayor Jennifer Gregerson’s campaign signs along the Mukilteo Speedway is tagged with “Build the wall” Monday, Aug. 28. City Council Position 2 candidate Peter Zieve’s billboard advertisement, which went up Monday, Aug. 28, can be seen in the background.

Anyone who has ever run for public office will tell you that despite rules to the contrary, campaign signs will inevitably be stolen, damaged and tossed aside.

Last weekend, a less common fate befell a slew of such signs up and down the Mukilteo Speedway, from the intersection with Paine Field Boulevard on the north to Beverly Park Road on the south: using stencils and spray paint, someone defaced most of this season’s campaign signs with political messages of their own.

All referring to President Donald Trump, messages such as “Build the wall,” “Trump 2020” and “America loves/needs Trump” appeared in either red or gold on at least one of nearly every mayoral and City Council candidate’s campaign signs.

City Council Position 3 candidate Tony Markey got a call from a friend Saturday morning, Aug. 26, telling him that one of his signs had been tagged. He immediately jumped in his car to swap it out with a fresh sign.

“It’s weird and slightly disturbing because it’s a bit beyond kids kicking over signs,” Markey said. “What’s interesting about it is that they picked our political signs to spread their political message. To me, it means someone is passionate slash disturbed enough to create a stencil, get some spray paint and start committing crimes to spread that message.”

Under state law, each instance of removing or defacing political advertising, such as yard signs and billboards, is a misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

“It seems like every campaign season someone complains about signs being stolen or removed, but this kind of thing is a lot less common,” Mukilteo Police Sgt. Shaun Greenmun said. “If somebody saw something and could give us a good description of the suspect, we would definitely look into it. But without any strong leads, we probably wouldn’t expend too much effort.”

Markey said he didn’t file a police report, but he suspects the deed was done sometime Friday night, Aug. 25. He said he also spotted other signs that had been tagged, including one belonging to his opponent, Sarah Kneller. Position 2 candidate Peter Zieve is the only candidate whose signs were not defaced, according to the Beacon’s Monday morning survey of signs along the Speedway.

“I can’t even imagine who would do that,” Zieve said. “Whoever it is, shame on you. You are not doing your message or your ideology any good. Breaking, stealing, spray painting – all of that is unacceptable.”

Zieve, who donated $1 million to President Trump’s election campaign, said he doesn’t have a problem with the message itself so much as the way it was delivered.

“That message is perfectly OK for me on Facebook, but not spray painted on a sign,” he said. “I’d like the police to do something about this.”

Zieve said when he caught someone on video surveillance messing with his “Trump for President” signs at the corner of Chennault Beach Road and 47 Ave. W in late 2015, he took his evidence to Mukilteo Police.

“People would stop in their car, get out and steal them or throw them into the bushes,” he said. “We took pictures to the police and even had license plate numbers. We were hoping they would at least make some calls, but they didn’t do anything.”

Incumbent City Council President Bob Champion said he agrees with Zieve, his opponent in the November general election, that defacing property is the wrong way to raise political issues.

“If signs are being defaced, that’s just not the right way to communicate and talk through the issues,” he said. “I would ask that individual to come forward and talk with me so we can find common ground. I would like to refocus on the issues that impact our citizens and our city.”

Markey agreed, stressing the fact that elected city positions are nonpartisan and those who seek them and hold them should remain focused on city issues.

“Our roads are not partisan,” he said. “Keeping kids safe in our community is not a partisan issue. I see this as an expression of a fringe element in our community, and I don’t think this kind of behavior deserves any kind of official response.”

Kneller said she’s disheartened by the negativity of the act.

“I guess that is the nature of the political climate in our country right now,” she said. “I think it’s kind of sad that we can’t just have an open forum where we can all talk about things. I wish we could focus more on what we all want for our community. It’s too bad this negative stuff has to detract from all our positive efforts to engage with each other.”

Position 1 candidate Anna Rohrbough said she doesn’t take the messages personally.

“I don’t think we should overreact,” she said. “Sometimes when we pay attention to something negative, it gives them what they want. Unfortunately, it says a lot about the person’s character and how they feel. They either feel they’re not being heard or it’s just some kid out defacing property, and that’s not so unusual.”

Rohrbough’s opponent, James Yoo, did not respond to a request for comment before the Beacon’s press deadline.

Mayoral candidate Dan Matthews, who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen in 2012 and state Sen. Marko Liias in 2014 as a Republican, said he once had a large campaign sign broken down with the help of chainsaw.

“It happens,” he said. “It’s mindless and malicious. Mostly, I think I just shrug it off because I figure I have bigger fish to fry. This isn’t a terrorist act; it’s just a stupid act.”

If someone were caught, Matthews said their punishment shouldn’t be much more than some kind of public service, such as cleaning up graffiti around town.

As for Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, she said she wouldn’t let the vandalism distract her from running her race and engaging with voters.

“I have learned that you’ve just got to move on,” she said. “If a candidate focuses too much on their signs, they’re not focused on what matters, which is engaging voters directly. I think Mukilteo voters are smart. They’ll be paying attention to the issues more than all these signs.”

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