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City election a sign of the times

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By Birdie Jaworski

A walk down Seventh Street offers more political posters per mile than any other road in Las Vegas the week before Tuesday’s election.

Seventh Street is ground zero for the hotly contested Ward 3 City Council position, with five candidates in the race, Joey Herrera, Andrew Feldman, Henry A. Sanchez, Luis Ortiz and Max Trujillo.

A quick walk reveals signs on fences, pickup trucks, stuck in the ground on posts, even affixed high in trees that drape over the busy roadway. Candidates are given a set of guidelines outlining where and under which conditions signs may be placed, but any Las Vegas resident can see that these ordinances aren’t enforced.

Two years ago, the city’s code enforcers revealed that they don’t enforce sign size because of First Amendment concerns. That’s why signs larger than those permitted under city ordinance are allowed.

Candidate Feldman designed a blue and white sign with a squiggle for his campaign.

“The blue color and wavy squiggle symbolize water, which is one of the important issues in the city,” Feldman said. “As far as campaign signs go, northern New Mexico is very political. It’s a sport almost. We’re given specific ordinances to follow. The ordinance reads that signs can only be put on private property with the owner’s permission. No signs are allowed on city or county public lands, but you see signs where they shouldn’t be. If a candidate can’t follow the ordinances for campaign signs, can they follow the rules if they are elected?”

All of the candidates in that race were called, but only Feldman would comment for the record.

Most candidates use vivid primary colors — reds, whites, blues — designed to catch a voter’s jaded eyes. This year, several candidates have broken out of the standard crayon box with golds, electric and sky blues, some on a shiny black background. Signs around town include middle initials and nicknames perhaps to resonate with constituents or offer familiarity, dignity and even humor. Some homeowners accept more than one candidate’s signs, even for competing positions.

“I have signs for three of the mayoral candidates,” Las Vegas resident Anne Martinez said. “I haven’t decided who I’m voting for yet, but I’m giving any candidate the opportunity to place a sign in my yard. Equal opportunity for everyone, I suppose.”

After the election, candidates have 10 days in which to remove their signs, but some signs remain in place months after an election. City code enforcement officials have said they enforce this particular rule.

The history of the poster goes back a couple hundred years. Theater companies and book printers in London and Paris were the first to craft advertising posters with simple slogans in the second half of the 19th century. Food and household items began to be advertised next, when the industrial age brought more goods competing for customers. The political poster developed, with a few exceptions, only around World War I.

Before 1914, political posters were censored in most countries. During World War I, however, they quickly became the most powerful propaganda tool. It’s hard to imagine a country today without them.

With blunt and powerful messages stamped over iconic images, the political poster influenced history: It helped rally support, increase morale, raise money, recruit soldiers, defame the enemy and boost patriotism and support for the war. Every election in our country — regardless of size — counts campaign signs among its most visible trappings.