Joseph McMahon, campaign manager for Democrat Brian J. Kulpa, said he has worked “plenty of campaigns.”
So when he started hearing from constituents that a couple of Amherst candidates’ lawn signs had gone missing, McMahon was not too alarmed.
But when the reports started increasing throughout last week, McMahon became concerned.
Four Democratic candidates for various Amherst offices, including Kulpa, have each had about 400 of their lawn signs stolen recently, McMahon said.
“It’s never gotten to this level,” McMahon said. “That’s a lot of money, about $4,000 worth of signs.”
Police Chief John C. Askey on Sunday confirmed detectives are investigating sign stealing in the town. A person who steals political signs could face charges of criminal possession of stolen property and criminal mischief, Askey said. Those charges could be misdemeanors or more serious felonies, depending on the total value of the signs.
Kulpa, who is mayor of the Village of Williamsville, is challenging Republican-endorsed Conservative candidate Marjory H. Jaeger for Amherst supervisor. Not only have Kulpa’s lawn signs been swiped, in some instances, the lawn signs for the whole slate of Democratic candidates were stolen and replaced with signs from the Republican candidates, McMahon said.
Two Amherst residents reported to police that they saw a town employee, who is a registered Conservative, pulling up Democratic campaign signs at several points near Main Street and Kensington Avenue in Amherst last Thursday night.
“There were probably 20 something signs, and they were having difficulty getting them out of the ground,” said one witness, who asked not to be identified because she and the town employee know each other.
“I reported it regardless of who those people were because it was wrong. This is my town. This is where I live, and I don’t expect people to behave that way,” the woman said. “If I was running for office, and those were my signs and my property being damaged, I would want someone to speak up.”
What’s more, McMahon said the Amherst Democratic Committee found out last week that Democratic candidates’ lawn signs at a bank at Main and North Ellicott streets in Amherst were taken down within hours of going up and replaced with signs for Republican candidates.
The property is owned by Benderson Development Co., said McMahon. He later asked a volunteer coordinator to send a Facebook direct message from Kulpa to Jaeger’s campaign letting them know that Kulpa had permission to place his signs there and that Jaeger’s campaign does not have “an exclusive right to the Benderson property,” McMahon said.
That wasn’t the first communication between the two camps about the sign problem.
On Oct. 29, Kulpa sent a text message to say the signs were missing and asking Jaeger to “please knock it off,” McMahon said.
“She responded OK, and something along the lines that she got it and that she would do something,” McMahon said.
Detectives have questioned a suspect and are expected to consult Monday with the District Attorney’s Office, Askey said.
“Our primary concern is that we do a proper investigation, gather evidence properly and lay the appropriate charges based on the information we have,” Askey said. “That may not happen by election time.”
News Staff Reporter Joesph Popiolkowski contributed to this report.