Races heat up early over political signs

By Ruth Longoria

The signs began appearing the first week of July. If you've driven around the Island, you undoubtedly know that Brenda Finkenbinder is running for a seat on the Mercer Island City Council.

However, her opponent in the race, Mike Grady, has yet to begin plastering signs about the Island. If Grady had his way, the Finkenbinder signs wouldn't be up yet either.

A few months ago, Finkenbinder and Grady both announced their candidacy for Position No. 6, which will be vacant as Mayor Alan Merkle announced that he won't run to retain his council seat.

Grady is among the Islanders opposed to the posting of political signs before the last few weeks of the campaign. Folks who agree with Grady, and the politician himself, have written to the Reporter in recent weeks expressing their opposition to the signs and the candidates who post them.

``I just want a level playing field. Let's be fair, I mean, imagine how upset people would be if Lance Armstrong was given a two-week headstart in the Tour de France,'' Grady said of his lack of tolerance for his opponent's red-white-and-blue signs.

But Finkenbinder is a bit offended by Grady's somewhat misguided analogy.

``That would be cheating -- and, I'm not,'' Finkenbinder said.

Finkenbinder isn't breaking the rules, because there is no law setting a specific date for posting signs, although the city previously suggested a ``reasonable'' time frame of no more than 45 days prior to an election. That's all the city offered: a suggestion. City staff have since removed that wording from their Web site since it's not part of the law.

Though other local politicians haven't begun posting signs yet, expect more names to become very visible pretty soon.

``I'll put my signs up as soon as I can afford them,'' Alaska Airlines pilot Capt. Bob Baker joked.

Baker is running against councilman Jim Pearman for City Council position No. 4.

``None of us are excited to see signs all over the Island, but I'll agree with the Supreme Court decision that posting political signs is a First Amendment right,'' Baker said.

Finkenbinder -- who said she's not too happy with sign season either -- believes she is being sensitive to residents by having her volunteers put up and take down signs based on specific happenings on the Island. The signs were posted in time for Summer Celebration, taken down for a short time, and then put up again in time for election filing week, which ended on Friday. She said she plans to have the signs taken down again this week and put up again when there is a reason to do so.

``I'm not sure when they will be needed again, but I'll take them down for a while,'' she said.

But, she isn't taking the signs down because of her opponent's ire over them.

``I think the signs serve a very important purpose,'' she said. ``In a non-presidential election year, on Mercer Island as in other areas, we have a very low voter turnout. In 2003, I think it was somewhere around 50 percent. I want to do anything I can to increase public awareness of the election and give voters a chance to study the issues and the people they want to represent them on those issues. Posting signs early gives residents a chance to know who they want to vote for.''

Sidebar: Political signs

There is no specified starting date for posting political signs. However, signs must comply with the following city regulations:

? Signs cannot be larger than six square-feet.

? Signs can be placed on private property with permission of the owner.

? Signs can be placed on public property, such as roadsides and traffic islands, as long as the signs do not cause traffic problems, such as line of sight problems. Signs cannot be taller than 40 inches in height.

? Signs must be removed within 48 hours of an election.

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