Goode Weed: Dems see wide thievery

The Al Weed campaign staff can understand the allure of its campaign signs in some collegiate quarters. After all, the Democratic Fifth District congressional candidate's name, "Weed," also connotes a popular intoxicant. But staffers don't think pot-happy students are responsible for a recent rampage of sign thievery.

Campaign manager Dave Mills could see UVA students absconding with a few Weed signs in Charlottesville. "But I don't believe college students took the sign off the Democratic headquarters in Appomattox," he says.

The campaign claims that one in five of its large, 4 x 8-foot signs have been stolen. One of the most brazen thefts occurred at the home of Barracks Road resident Betty Gallagher.

After losing four smaller Weed signs, Gallagher rigged a homemade alarm: a 150-foot wire attached to some bells outside her window. The bells began ringing at 4am October 22. But by the time the sleeping Gallagher could find her robe and get outside to investigate, the thieves– and her big sign– were gone.

"There's a large Bush sign only two blocks away," says Gallagher, "and it's still standing, so it's not someone who just doesn't like big signs."

Gallagher says she's "constantly" had signs stolen in the past, and one of the smaller Weed signs was ripped up and stuck in her mailbox– "like I'm supposed to be afraid," she scoffs. She's irate because the signs are expensive. "Al Weed," she says, "doesn't have that much money."

A more gruesome theft occurred that same night in Albemarle at Brook Hill Farm, where a large Weed sign was allegedly replaced with a deer carcass.

Natural Bridge, along with Campbell and Nelson counties, has been particularly hard-hit, with five biggies taken in one night in Campbell, Mills reports. The signs are worth $50 each, and cost even more if they have to be replaced, he says.

"If people knew how much these cost– it's like stealing from your neighbor," says Mills. "It's frustrating."

Particularly galling to Democrats are the thefts right in Weed's Nelson backyard.

"It's Al's home county," says Mills. "A lot of people offered to display signs on 29. There's a little bit of pride there because Al's lived in Nelson 25 years."

In Franklin County, Republican candidate Virgil Goode's home base, a couple of men drove up onto the lawn of Weed supporter Joe Stanley, took his sign and left tire marks across the yard. "Unbelievable," says Mills.

Goode signs have not remained unscathed. "I have been shocked by the number of Bush and Goode signs that have been defaced and stolen," says Goode, the Republican incumbent. "On one farm in Nelson County, defacers climbed a board fence to spray-paint a Bush/Goode sign."

As for the possibility that zealous Goode supporters are swiping Weed's signs, "Obviously, we wouldn't encourage that," says campaign worker Barbara McConaghie.

"It's widespread, and it's coordinated," contends Mills. "There's too much of a pattern in the disappearances."

Charlottesville police Sergeant David Jones says he's read about sign theft in the paper– but no reports of stolen signs have come across his desk.

Weed supporter John Shepherd thinks he knows why. After huge Weed signs went missing October 15 from his lot on the corner of the 250 Bypass and McIntire Road, he promptly went to the police department. "They said they didn't take those reports," says Shepherd. "They didn't want to get involved in the election."

Shepherd says he persisted and was eventually allowed to file a report. He also called the Public Works Department to see if the signs had been removed in the mistaken belief they were on the public right of way. "I knew they weren't," he says.

A friend emailed that he'd seen someone in a city truck driving away from Shepherd's property with the Weed signs in the back. The next week, the signs appeared again, tossed on the lot. Weed supporters put the signs up again– but by the next day they were stolen again.

Bell-wielding Gallagher says she reported her theft October 22– but had not heard from the Charlottesville police at press time.

In a real rarity, an Afton woman got the license plate number of a car attempting to steal her big Weed sign.

Captain Ed Watkins with the Nelson Sheriff's Office says the license indicates a car registered in Northern Virginia, and that they're investigating. The sheriff's office has reports of five other giant Weed signs being stolen in Afton.

Watkins says it's more common for political signs to be vandalized than stolen. "People aren't reporting them vandalized," he notes. "We're finding them." One example of a spray painted sign: "Kerry Edwards smokes Weed."

Sign theft "is a violation of the law," Watkins says, and instances will be prosecuted.

Albemarle police report eight incidents in October, with the thefts evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. "They're not party particular," says Lieutenant Earl Newton.

Mills complains about the financial impact the loss of over $2,100 worth of large signs will have on Weed's campaign, which lags behinds Goode's war chest.

As discouraging as the thefts have been, Mills vows the Weed campaign will not get into a big sign war. "If anything, it's making our supporters more ardent," he says.

Certainly no candidates are immune, and there's even bipartisan vandalizing, evident in reports of "Goode Weed" hybrids.