2016-09-20 / Front Page

Biddeford House candidate says his signs are being stolen

Opponent denies involvement, and police have received no reports
By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer


Signs for Independent candidate for House District 12 Matthew Lauzon are pictured Monday at a plot of land at the corner of Water and Sullivan streets just outside downtown Biddeford. Lauzon claimed Monday the majority of his signs were stolen over the weekend. 
ALAN BENNETT/JournalTribune Signs for Independent candidate for House District 12 Matthew Lauzon are pictured Monday at a plot of land at the corner of Water and Sullivan streets just outside downtown Biddeford. Lauzon claimed Monday the majority of his signs were stolen over the weekend. ALAN BENNETT/JournalTribune BIDDEFORD — A local man running for the Maine House of Representatives is saying his campaign signs are being stolen across Biddeford, and is accusing his opponent’s supporters of committing the crime.

Matthew Lauzon, who is running as an Independent for House District 12, which covers part of Biddeford, said Monday that the majority of his campaign signs were stolen or removed over the weekend, and that it’s not the first time he’s noticed his signs have been tampered with.

“After the first time around, I started keeping track of where other candidates’ signs are, and as far as I know, no other signs are touched,” Lauzon said.

He said the majority of signs for his opponent, incumbent Democrat Martin Grohman, remained up on Monday.

Lauzon believes his signs may have been taken by supporters of his opponent, although he doesn’t believe Grohman himself played a role.

“I don’t believe Marty Grohman is the type of person to condone this,” Lauzon said. “I believe it’s more than likely people who support him who have done this, but I don’t believe he instructed to do it.”

“The flip side, is I think part of leadership sometimes is proactively reigning people in,” Lauzon continued. “People on his campaign have certainly seen I’ve posted (on social media) about this. I’m surprised he hasn’t posted a public disavowment (sic) of the actions.”

Grohman said on Monday he would never support tampering with an opponent’s campaign signs, and that he would be “upset” if his supporters took Lauzon’s signs.

“I’ve had the same experience. I absolutely don’t condone people taking anybody’s signs, and frankly, it’s against the law,” Grohman said. “It’s a $250 fine, and it’s a major offense. Don’t do it.”

Lauzon said he has so far spent $264 on 50 signs and stakes from campaign contributions, at a cost of about $5.25 per sign. He claims about 40 of those signs have been stolen in two separate waves, although as of Monday afternoon, more than 12 of Lauzon’s signs could be seen on several locations in and around the city’s downtown.

“Our campaign will not be able to afford continuing to have signage if this continues to happen given that we did not take clean election money and are relying on contributions,” Lauzon said in an email Monday. “At this time we will be using money that was contributed when I shared news of the signs to buy another 50 signs and hopefully this behavior ends.”

Biddeford Deputy Police Chief JoAnne Fisk said Monday that no police reports have been filed in relation to stolen signs so far, and that sign theft has not been an issue of late.

“It’s only during an election cycle, and really not that often,” Fisk said. “We do not receive a great deal of reports, let me put it that way.”

Fisk also said sign theft is generally not an issue in Biddeford at all, and that she expects candidates and landowners to abide by the rules pertaining to campaign sign placement.

The city requires that political signs not be placed within public right-of-way more than six weeks prior to the primary or general election. That would allow candidates to place signs on publicly-owned roadways next Tuesday.

The Maine Department of Transportation stipulates that publicly-placed signs must also contain the sign owner’s name, address and six-week time frame of placement.

Signs may be erected, however, at any point before the election if they are placed on private property and are five feet from the edge of the roads. Lauzon said he checked in with his donors who requested signs for their properties to ensure they were in compliance with the regulations.

“Unless an honest mistake was made, I don’t think any of the signs were removed due to a violation,” he said in a separate email message.

Lauzon said the removal of his signs goes beyond just his campaign. He expressed concern about his supporters’ rights to free speech, saying some were under pressure to remove their signs by their landlords, whom he claims are friends with Grohman.

“It’s kind of fundamental limiting of free speech,” Lauzon said.

Grohman said this is not the case; rather, it is up to the individual property owners, not renters, if political signs are allowed to be displayed, regardless of political affiliation.

“I would say that if you’re newer to campaigning on things, one thing you might not know is that typically you need to obtain permission of the landlord or landowner,” Grohman said. “I think there are often situations where a resident of a multi-unit building might place a sign but that might not be technically allowed. It’s really the discretion of the landowner.”

Grohman said he has so far given out about 70 signs to individuals for display on their properties, and that managing campaign signs is just part of the job.

“I’ve had a bunch of them go over the last few days, and a few of them have been found, but they’re all mangled,” he said. “I would say it’s a full-time job keeping up your signs as a candidate.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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