One of Keene’s two mayoral candidates says he’s concerned he’s being targeted after many of his campaign signs were vandalized this week — several of them with lewd images.
City Councilor Mitchell H. Greenwald said the fiasco began in the past couple of weeks with a few of his signs being taken or knocked down, an annoying but minor inconvenience that happens in many elections.
“Some overzealous supporter [of the opponent] thinks they’re helping,” he surmised, “but it really is not helping.”
This past weekend, though, Greenwald said more than a dozen signs disappeared from lawns around School Street.
Then he got a call Wednesday about a placard on Leverett Street that had been covered in black paint. And Thursday morning, Greenwald and his son Joshua received calls from supporters about more signs with graffiti, some with profanity and several with obscene images.
Calling it “embarrassing and hurtful,” Joshua Greenwald wrote in a Facebook message to a reporter that at least nine of his father’s signs were vandalized Wednesday night, on top of a handful that were taken from yards.
He estimates about 40 have been stolen or graffitied in the past few weeks.
Councilor George S. Hansel, the other mayoral candidate, said he’s replaced a few of his own signs that had gone missing, but none to his knowledge have been vandalized. And he reported to The Sentinel late Thursday night that a 4-foot-by-4-foot sign on Main Street near Route 101 had been taken.
On the streets where signs were spray-painted, though, Greenwald said the untouched Hansel for Mayor signs are telling: “It’s pretty obvious that it’s aimed at me.”
Greenwald and his son filed a report with Keene police Thursday. Late that afternoon, Sgt. Collin Zamore said the department was still gathering information, so he didn’t have firm details on how many signs had been vandalized or in what areas of the city.
While reports of missing or stolen signs aren’t uncommon during elections, Zamore said he can’t recall graffiti like this in his decade with the department.
In addition to potential charges of criminal mischief, Zamore said vandalizing political signs carries its own consequences laid out in state law, including civil penalties that can be pursued by the Attorney General’s Office.
When asked if the culprit might be someone with a personal vendetta rather than a political agenda, Greenwald — a local landlord and co-partner, with Joshua, of Greenwald Realty Associates — said he had considered that, but noted that none of his realty signs have ever been taken or vandalized like this.
“But what’s really troubling about this is these are on private property,” Greenwald said. “These are individuals that asked for the signs. This is not like it’s out, you know, on the bypass or something like that.”
And because of that, Greenwald asserted that the vandalism amounts to voter intimidation.
He and Hansel have announced their intent to run in the November election to succeed Mayor Kendall W. Lane, but officially, there aren’t any candidates yet: The filing period starts Aug. 21 and extends through Sept. 10.
Hansel posted a statement on his personal Facebook page Thursday morning condemning the vandalism and declaring that it’s not condoned by his campaign. He reiterated this in a phone interview.
“It’s illegal. It’s juvenile, and people who do it are breaking the law, and I’m all for them being caught,” he said, adding that he’d expect the same support if the tables were turned and his signs were being defaced.
“This is not the type of behavior or campaign that we’re running,” Hansel continued. “… We should all come together and try and be more positive and respectful in the future.”
But Greenwald said he wants more than a Facebook post from his opponent. Clarifying that he doesn’t think Hansel had anything to do with it, he alleged that the culprit is a misguided supporter.
“I’d like to see what [Hansel’s] going to do to really discourage people from doing this,” Greenwald said. “... I want action, and if the vandal reads Facebook, that’s great. … Speak to whoever you can talk to to say, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”
Hansel did not indicate he would take additional action but said he is communicating with his supporters.
“All I can do is, everyone I talk to, I’m trying to make sure that everyone knows we’re running an issues-based campaign,” he said “… There’s no place for that kind of toxic stuff.”
Anyone with information about the vandalism can call Keene police at 352-2222 and ask to speak with an officer.