In C-U, 'What's your sign?' is a political question
CHAMPAIGN — This is a yard-sign town, says Champaign resident Joy Thornton-Walter, and people notice.
A day before the Illinois primary election, you can't drive down a main road in Champaign-Urbana without seeing at least a few political signs. For better or for worse, there's maybe no campaign device more definitive of a local election than the yard sign.
Thornton-Walter has four in her yard along Prospect Avenue. She's been a Democratic volunteer for years, she said, and she knows she's got valuable frontage along a major Champaign thoroughfare.
"I think it is helpful," she said. "It's a big yard-sign town."
The Sam Rosenberg and Carol Ammons signs may be the most numerous around here: The two are facing off in the Democratic primary to replace retiring state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson.
Along Florida Avenue in Urbana, Joan Stolz has both candidates in her yard.
"Sam Rosenberg stopped by and convinced my husband to vote for him," Stolz said. Stolz thinks her husband was swayed when Rosenberg said the dogs were cute.
So when the Stolzes granted permission for Rosenberg to post a sign in their yard, Joan Stolz called the Ammons campaign to request a sign.
She doesn't mind having her politics on display.
"It doesn't scare me," she said. "I haven't had any problems. The worst we've had is someone come by and steal a sign."
In the district where former Champaign County Board Chairman C. Pius Weibel is challenging current Chairman Al Kurtz for the Democratic nomination, their signs duel.
For them, it's all about name recognition.
"Get the word out," Weibel said.
Kurtz goes to every door to ask permission. It's part of campaigning, he said. He shares his record and tries to earn the resident's support.
If someone grants permission for Kurtz to post a sign, he promises them it will be gone the day after the election.
"It's showing the support of your constituents and showing name recognition for people who may not be as informed," Kurtz said.
Weibel said he's spent about $600 of his campaign funds on about 250 signs. He has not used all of them yet.
"I generally ask people if I can put a sign up," Weibel said. "Some people call me, contact me, and ask for a sign."
He puts them everywhere, he said. In a previous election a few years ago, Weibel said he had a friend in San Francisco request a sign, so he mailed one to California.
And yes, there is a dark side to yard-sign campaigning. Some mysteriously disappear. Some end up on public property, where they are not allowed.
The candidates know the rules, said Urbana public works operations supervisor John Collins, but it seems like they rarely follow them.
City workers pick them off public property when they find one — they can create visibility issues for people pulling out of their driveways, Collins said. In the past, they would stack them up and ask candidates to come retrieve them. Rarely did anyone come to salvage their signs.
"I do remember in years past we had a pretty good pile of them," Collins said.
Weibel and Kurtz both say they do not put their signs on public property. Kurtz said he is personally responsible for each of the signs he places, and if they end up on public property, he didn't put them there.
Weibel said he doesn't do it either, but sometimes it's hard to tell where public property starts and private property ends when there's no sidewalk.
But do other candidates do it?
"I can't make any comments about other candidates, because I don't know who does it," Kurtz said.
Weibel's response: "I think you can ask that question for yourself."
Thornton-Walter late last week was irritated to find that her George Gollin sign was missing — again. She's had both Gollin and Ann Callis along her property line on Prospect Avenue. The two candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination for Congress.
All that remained was a wire frame where the sign used to be. Maybe it blew away?
"Uh, I don't think it's an accident," Thornton-Walter said.