Vandalized Laurie Capitelli campaign signs

The campaign sign gremlins are out in full force.

Two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, many of the candidates for major Berkeley offices are reporting that their signs have been torn down, ripped up, stolen, or vandalized – and, in some cases, the destruction feels personal.

Anna Avellar, the aide to Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, woke up Sunday to find her “Tom Bates for Mayor” sign ripped into small pieces and deposited on her doorstep. What made the vandalism creepy, she said, is that her front door is about 30 steps from the sidewalk. So someone had to tear up the sign and come up the stairs in the dark to set down the pieces.

“A couple of weeks ago someone shoved dozens of “Kriss” (campaign signs for mayoral candidate Kriss Worthington) and other … flyers into my gate,” Avellar posted to her Facebook page. “Strangely enough, no one else on my lane was as lucky. Do I think I am being targeted? YES!”

Jacquelyn McCormick, Laurie Capitelli, Worthington and others have also seen their campaign signs removed or vandalized.

The Tom Bates sign left on Anna Avellar’s doorstep
The Tom Bates sign left on Anna Avellar’s doorstep

Sophie Hahn, who is running against Councilman Laurie Capitelli, said her campaign signs are regularly stolen. In one case, during the night, someone uprooted a series of signs that lined Rose Street.

“We have had signs torn out from the ground and ripped into pieces,” Hahn wrote in an email. “In one case, a sign on a wooden stick was removed, torn and appeared to have been “beaten” with the stick it had been on  … Signs in the Sacramento Street median have been covered with spray paint – painted over entirely. Basically, it has been something we deal with virtually every day – seeing or hearing about signs that are stolen or vandalized.”

The more controversial the race, the more likely a sign is to be vandalized, it seems.

“If you put up a sign that everyone agrees with in Berkeley you are not going to get it torn down,” said Worthington, who saw a slew of his signs on utility poles on University Ave. disappear after 11 p.m. one night. “But, if it is a contested race, there are a lot of hot-headed people who are overpowered by their emotions and aren’t thinking straight.”

One Berkeleyside commentator said that Measure T signs seem particularly vulnerable.

“I put out a dozen Yes on T signs last Friday throughout District 2. By Monday, they were all gone. I saw one Yes on T sign at San Pablo and Hearst that had been crudely changed to a No on T sign,” said the poster who calls himself Tor_berg.

Campaign signs are only allowed on some public property, which is why so many sit in the median of San Pablo Avenue and University Avenue. They can be placed on poles that are owned by the city, but cannot be affixed to wooden telephone poles, which are owned by utilities. But many of the signs being vandalized have been on private property.

A photographer snaps a photo of someone apparently uprooting a Tom Bates sign

It is almost impossible to determine who is tearing down campaign signs. Worthington thinks that overzealous volunteers are often to blame. A few years back he found out that some of his volunteers were destroying his opponents’ signs.

“We told them severely ‘you are not welcome in our office. We want a positive campaign. We don’t want that kind of destruction and negativity,’” said Worthington.

On Friday Oct 19, Ces Rosales, a former candidate for District 7, woke up to find her front window cracked. It sat directly behind a sign for Tom Bates and it appears as if someone threw the rock against the sign, said Rosales.

“This act of vandalism can only mean one of two things (or both): somebody dislikes Mayor Tom Bates so much that just seeing this sign evokes vandalism; OR somebody dislikes my outspoken support for Mayor Bates and is trying to intimidate me,” Rosales wrote in an email. “When I had to leave my country because of martial law I thought I left behind my fear of being harmed because of my political views. I had no idea it can happen to me right here in Berkeley: the home of ‘free speech’.”

Worthington said someone wrote down the license plate number of the car containing the people who systematically ripped down his signs from utility poles. Yet he hasn’t gone to the police about it.

“I disapprove, but am I going to divert my time from talking to voters to focus on that?” he said.

A Jacquelyn McCormick campaign sign discarded on the sidewalk

Note: This article has been updated to state campaign signs are permitted on “some” public property. Before the correction it read “on public property.”

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...