Section 10-119 of the NYC Administrative Code states, in part, “It [is] unlawful for any person to paste, post, paint, print, nail or attach or affix…any handbill, poster, notice, sign, ad, sticker or other printed material upon any…tree, lamppost…telephone pole, public utility pole…bus shelter…parking meter, mail box, traffic control device…[or] public pay telephone…or to direct, suffer or permit any servant, agent, employee or other person under his or her control to engage in such activity…” Note that there is no exemption for political candidates.
In fact, the Department of Sanitation makes phone calls and sends letters to every campaign office prior to active campaigning informing them that “postering” is illegal. So political candidates and their campaign managers and staff who claim they are not aware that “postering” is unlawful are at best disingenuous, and at worst blatantly dishonest.
Nor is this a case of First Amendment rights: “free speech” (or in this case advertising) does not trump sanitation. Political candidates have many avenues for campaigning and politicking. They can appear in person any place where constituents gather. Their staff can set up tables, distribute literature or sell buttons, or ask potential voters to sign petitions. Candidates can write positions papers and have them published in the press. They can buy ad space in newspapers, on radio and television, and appear on broadcast programs. They can (and do) inundate the public with direct mailings. And, of course, they can use the Internet with websites and email—probably the most cost effective and modern way to reach a wide audience.
Campaign posters tell a voter very little. They seem to be made for name recognition only, but very few people will actually make the decision to vote for someone based simply on seeing a poster. In fact, estimates show that campaign posters account for, at best, one or two percent of votes. Given how heavily some candidates poster, and the costs of printing, using posters does not show much financial savvy on the part of campaign managers. Nor do political candidates and their campaign managers apparently take into account how negatively the litter affects many voters—thus possibly costing these candidates more votes than the posters create.
The most ironic aspect of campaign postering is that most candidates run for public offices where making, modifying and/or enforcing laws is the primary function. Yet these same candidates knowingly and deliberately break the law in order to get elected!
So when you see someone removing a campaign poster—and anyone has the legal right to do so—don’t make the assumption that they work for another candidate. Rather, it’s more likely that one of your neighbors is trying to keep the neighborhood clean—and the candidates honest.
Sam Katz and Ian Alterman are the president and vice president, respectively, of the 20th Precinct Community Council.
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