A Montgomery County Council member says the campaign of congressional candidate David Trone has resorted to “a cheap and lazy way to build name recognition” by illegally placing Trone yard signs in the middle of busily traveled roadways and in other prominent locations.
Council member George Leventhal, who had endorsed Trone rival Jamie Raskin in the District 8 congressional primary, first raised the issue Saturday with a Facebook post that generated other complaints about the signs from residents. Trone is one of nine candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the April 26 primary.
On Monday, he told Bethesda Beat that in 2014—his last reelection campaign—he tried to make sure Leventhal yard signs weren’t illegally placed in public rights-of-way, such as roadway medians and in front of county parks.
“For those of us who do this for a living, it’s obnoxious,” Leventhal said. “If you are scrupulous and you do the right thing, you are at a competitive disadvantage. If someone says they’ve seen a Leventhal sign put up illegally, that’s probably true. But when I’ve been made aware of it, I take it down. You have Trone’s people combing the county putting them up on church land, park land. It’s obnoxious.”
In recent days, the Trone yard signs have been visible in much higher numbers. On Monday morning, Trone signs stood on both sides of Rockville Pike just north of downtown Bethesda and in the road’s grassy median. All three locations are public rights-of-way, making it illegal to place a campaign sign there.
Someone told Leventhal on Facebook that a Trone sign was placed in front of a church at Plyers Mill Road and Georgia Avenue in Wheaton and along East West Highway and 16th Street in Silver Spring.
Raskin mentioned the signs Sunday during a candidates’ forum in Frederick.
“We’re working on that,” Trone responded during the forum. “But thank you for your help, Jamie, in pointing that out.”
Questioned this morning about the street sign issue during an appearance before the District 18 Democratic Breakfast Club in Silver Spring, Trone said: “Clearly, some volunteers and folks stepped over their bounds. This is the first time we’ve done it — some people don’t know the rules. I certainly don’t know the rules: [Street signs are] something I’m not day-to-day involved in.”
“At the end of the day, they’ve gone out and they’ve taken a lot of street signs down. And they’re trying to work hard to follow the rules on street signs,” Trone said of his campaign workers. But he also suggested that many of the complaints were coming from Raskin supporters. “We got a lot of calls from two places — Silver Spring and Takoma Park. It wasn’t a coincidence.,” Trone declared. Raskin’s political base is in District 20, which includes Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
County Council President Nancy Floreen told Bethesda Beat she asked the county’s Department of Permitting Services to reach out to all the congressional campaigns and explain the sign-placing rules.
“It’s a big problem. They are blatantly not following the rules and some of the signs are blocking lines of sight, where people are turning,” Floreen said. “They’re welcome to put them in peoples’ yards, but that’s not what’s been done. The county is on it.”
A Department of Permitting services spokesperson on Monday referred to rules for political signs that say signs placed in the public right-of-way require a “limited duration sign permit.” State law doesn’t allow any signs in a state highway right-of-way, such as Rockville Pike, Old Georgetown Road, Connecticut Avenue and Georgia Avenue.
Trone, the multimillionaire co-owner of Bethesda-based Total Wine & More, has said he will “spend whatever it takes” to build his name recognition in pursuit of the Democratic nomination for the District 8 seat, which Rep. Chris Van Hollen is vacating to run for U.S. Senate.
He backed up those words with almost $3 million in spending on TV and radio ads in the first five weeks of his campaign. The amount is more than four times the amount that candidate Kathleen Matthews spent in the same time period. Matthews was the only other candidate to buy TV ads.
In February, Trone fired two campaign staffers and their supervisor after the staffers volunteered for the Matthews and Raskin campaigns in an alleged effort to steal information.
With reporting from Louis Peck