Election-season signage on public property irks local residents

Marissa Page, City Editor

As the March 15 state and national primary elections draw nearer, Evanston residents and city officials noted an influx of campaign signage cropping up on public property — a violation of state law.

Bonnie Schindler (Medill ‘91, ‘92) said she began to notice signs for different local candidates over the past week or so, largely for Judge of Circuit Court of Cook County and Cook County State’s Attorney, posted on public property such as right of ways — stretches of grass in the middle of city roads — and traffic circles.

“I totally don’t care if people have it on their lawns, it’s just really annoying on city property, especially when I just paid a big tax bill,” Schindler said.

She added jokingly, “I feel like that little triangle of grass is partly mine now.”

Schindler identified Carolyn Gallagher, who’s running for Cook County Judge, as one of the candidates whose signage was placed on city property. Other candidates could not be reached for comment as of Thursday night.

Gallagher said as an attorney and a judicial candidate she is “prohibited by the canons of ethics” in being involved with the financial aspects of her campaign, including the hiring of independent contractors who place the signage, so she said she was not directly involved in the distribution of her materials. She said she received a call from an Evanston resident who was upset about the signage.

“No one from any other township and no one from the city has called me,” Gallagher said. “I’m sure this comes up every election cycle, and my campaign manager put a call in to the guys putting the signs up.”

Jim Maiworm, assistant director of public works, said members from Evanston’s public works routinely clean up signs of all kinds on public property, from political signs to advertisements.

“Periodically, once a week during the spring, because spring is a very busy season for it all, we sweep through and we just collect,” Maiworm said. “Political season is usually a little heavier than not.”

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said one exception to the rule prohibiting signage on public property is the Civic Center, which serves as the city’s polling place. Signs are allowed within a certain number of feet from a polling place, he said.

Other than the Civic Center, Bobkiewicz said the city works diligently to make sure signs remain off public property and particularly off right of ways.

“This is my 10th or 11th election cycle in Evanston,” he said. “There’s always some issues. And we try to deal with them — the bottom line is to be fair to everyone.”

Gallagher said it was difficult to keep tabs on signage placement since Cook County encompasses a large area.

“I’m running county-wide for judge,” Gallagher said. “That includes the entire city — all 50 wards, plus 30 townships — so it’s a lot of territory that these crews cover. … We all know the rules. It’s one of those situations where there’s not much accountability.”

Schindler said she posted a status on Facebook expressing her frustration with the situation, which was echoed by fellow Evanston residents in comments and responses.

“It’s dishonest,” Schindler said. “It implies that there’s widespread support for the candidates, which there may or may not be. … It’s not the same as if the sign is on your lawn and you’re supporting the candidate.”

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