BANGOR, Maine — Though they did not take a formal position Tuesday night, members of a City Council committee agreed that the issue of campaign signs bears a closer look.
During particularly heated races and campaigns, the number and size of signs put up in some of the city’s highly traveled spots grows to the point that the signs hinder visibility at intersections, posing safety problems for motorists and pedestrians, according to some councilors.
As it stands, Bangor’s code of ordinances does not place limits on the size of political signs, City Clerk Patti Dubois noted in a memo to committee members.
The matter came before the City Council’s Government Operations Committee on Tuesday night at the request of Councilor Patricia Blanchette, who said she has no problem with political signs on private property but thought there ought to be some rules for those on city-owned land.
“It’s like a sign mushroom in some parts of the city,” she said, referring to the proliferation of campaign signs that pop up in the weeks leading up to Election Day. “It’s obnoxious, rude, to a lot of people.”
Blanchette said some of the signs put up before this year’s elections in November were as large as 4 feet by 16 feet, and some appeared to be placed in such a way that they blocked other candidates’ campaign signs.
“I’ve had that done to my signs,” she said.
Councilor Joseph Baldacci agreed that the proliferation of signs at many key city locations has gotten out of hand, “like an arms race.”
He said, however, that because campaign signs are a form of political speech, the matter should be approached as a First Amendment issue. His council colleagues did not disagree.
Councilors Charles Longo said signs provided candidates a way to stand out from the pack.
Councilor James Gallant said he didn’t think the city should limit the size of campaign signs on public property. He thought signs helped put the spotlight on lesser known candidates, such as political newcomers.
“For me, personally, I want the underdog to have a chance, always,” he said.
According to Dubois, the typical campaign lawn sign is 3 square feet. Upon checking with her counterparts in other Maine communities, she learned that size restrictions ranged from 8 square feet to 32 square feet. One municipality had a maximum height restriction of 3½ feet and many cities and towns require that signs not obstruct visibility at intersections.
Her recommendation to the committee was to consider a maximum size of 8 square feet and a 3½-foot maximum height.
Committee members agreed to revisit the issue in about a month. In the meantime, they asked City Solicitor Norman Heitmann to research state law regarding political signs and lay out the city’s options for regulating them.