William Harap said he was at home on 215th Street in a residential section of Queens Village early Saturday morning when a car pulled up in front of his home and stopped.
A man in his 30s got out of the vehicle and proceeded to do something northeast Queens police say has become something of a trend during campaign seasons. He steals the “Frank Padavan for State Senate” sign from his front yard, according to Harap.
“He gets out of his car and in the back window it said, ‘Vote for Tony Avella for State Senate.’ He went to my property and stole a Padavan campaign sign from my yard and he took them from my two neighbors’ houses, and six other houses that had the signs didn’t have them Saturday morning either,” Harap said.
Harap reported the incident to state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) in person at his campaign office in Bayside Monday morning and also reported it to the 111th Precinct.
Avella did not have any similar stories to report, but said he has heard rumors about his signs being taken down as well.
“I’ve heard smatterings about it, but I can’t say anything with certainty. I don’t have any specific stories or occasions. It’s campaign season so you hear those kinds of stories,” Avella said.
Both Avella and Padavan deny authorizing campaign workers and volunteers to take down opposing materials, but both sides have heard of such actions by people who they say may be nothing more than highly motivated voters. Neither side alleges that the other camp is directing workers or volunteers to remove lawn signs.
Padavan did say, however, that this year he has seen a large number of signs being removed, with as many as 20 percent of the 2,000 lawn signs he distributed having been stolen. Many supporters call his campaign office to request new signs when theirs are taken, and one man had to call four times after repeated removals.
“I have not made an issue of this because what are you going to do if you don’t catch them in the act? It’s pervasive in every part of my district, repetitively and consistently,” Padavan said. “This is childishness, stupid. I have not experienced this kind of problem before, but it’s happening.”
If Avella, who has knocked on more than 7,000 doors and handed out 1,300 lawn signs, found out that one of his volunteers or workers was engaged in such shady activity, he said he would not allow them to continue to work for his campaign.
“There’s not a whole lot we can do as far as punishment, but we wouldn’t use that volunteer anymore,” Avella said.
In the end, Padavan and Avella agree there is little to be done if rogue actors decide to use such methods to sway the election.
“We reaffirm it with every volunteer that comes in. You know you don’t take down anything that’s been put up by the other side,” Avella said. “It’s an election, and especially in a hotly contested election people get passionate and might want to take things into their own hands, but it’s definitely not something we would condone or promote at all and every volunteer is told and it’s reiterated.”
As a police source said, “This happens every election where everyone accuses everyone else of taking down their campaign signs.”
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cn