Mayoral campaign signs likely violated state election law
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 12:59 a.m.
A batch of last-minute campaign signs placed around Gainesville on the eve of Tuesday's mayoral runoff election were likely in violation of state law, Florida elections officials said, but finding out who is responsible for them may be difficult.
The signs derided Pegeen Hanrahan, the former city commissioner who won the mayor's race over banker C.B. Daniel on Tuesday to cap a campaign that some observers are calling one of the area's most contentious in years.
"What I'm concerned about more than anything else is that there has just been so much intensity in this campaign that I have never seen before," said Chuck Floyd, head of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee. "People were so worked up. It was just quite amazing to me, but I hope we can look at future elections here and get a little more civil and play by the rules."
Signs that read "Pegeen Raised Your Taxes" popped up around Gainesville during the weekend.
Officials with the Florida Department of State and the Florida Elections Commission, which investigates the complaints, said all campaign signs are required to have some sort of disclaimer indicating who paid for or sponsored the signs.
Gainesville resident Susan Wright, who has helped get a county campaign finance reform initiative on the fall ballot, said she will file a formal complaint about the signs if she figures out who ordered them.
"I literally called every printer in town and could not find who printed it. I don't know if I'm ever going to find anything, but I was so angry when I saw that," Wright said. "I can't file a complaint until I know who did it. If I can find out who did it, I certainly will file a complaint."
Attempts to reach Daniel for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful. Daniel campaign consultant Louis Kalivoda said he and Daniel also would like to find out who was behind the signs.
Kalivoda said he believes they may have damaged Daniel's efforts.
"Those signs are absolutely despicable, and C.B. feels as I do that we disavow ourselves from those," Kalivoda said. "Susan Wright is pursuing this doggedly. I also learned there is a forensic way to test the paint on the sign and perhaps be able to identify the printer. I don't care how we do it, I just want to find out who the heck is responsible. They shouldn't be allowed to function in the kind of political environment we have in Gainesville."
Immediately after the election results were in Tuesday night, Hanrahan said the signs were a clear violation of election law.
"It was not the kind of campaign tactic I would ever engage in, for a lot of different reasons," she said.
Elections Commission investigator Keith Smith said campaign signs and literature are among the prime sources of complaints in elections throughout the state.
Smith said the commission will investigate complaints about signs without disclaimers, but added it can be difficult to find a culprit."It would be investigated to the best of our ability," Smith said. "If a complaint came in (about a sign) without a disclaimer, it would be investigated to find out who did it, but it would be very difficult." Whoever filed the complaint would need to file as much detail as they had available."
Complaints already have been filed over an advertisement placed by Daniel's campaign in The Gainesville Sun before the March 9 election. The ad thanked people for their support. Some of those on the list actually supported Hanrahan or were publicly neutral in the race. At least one person listed is dead.
Issues also have been raised about the involvement of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee in the mayoral race, which is a nonpartisan contest. Hanrahan and Daniel are both Democrats. Kalivoda said Daniel tried to appeal to Republicans.
The Republican committee paid for last-minute signs that read "Stop Road Narrowing" on top and "Elect C.B. Daniel" at the bottom. They resembled Daniel's campaign signs and were intended to convey that Hanrahan favors the narrowing of some streets, committee Chairman Travis Horn said.
Horn said Tuesday he has no information about who put out the signs without disclaimers. But Horn said he was responsible for the "road" signs and that Daniel knew nothing about them.
"I did mimic C.B. Daniel's sign scheme without any authorization or coordination from his campaign," Horn said. "I've been asked about the other signs. I don't know anything about it. I would assume it was somebody opposed to Pegeen."
Floyd said it may be time to consider whether the election should be nonpartisan.
"This campaign was clearly Republican versus Democrat, even though Mr. Daniel is registered as a Democrat," Floyd said. "I think we should revisit this being called nonpartisan, because this was not a nonpartisan race."
Wright added she plans to review expenditures of Daniel's campaign for irregularities. Daniel, for instance, hired at least 30 day laborers to hold signs around the March 9 election but it does not appear that the expenditure was listed in his last expense report.
Kalivoda said Daniel's campaign finances were handled by accountant Jody Davis. Attempts to reach Davis on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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