Campaign signs in Harford County are more prominent than ever. As this year's general election inches closer, boards bearing the names of all kinds of candidates have been taking over street corners and local lawns.
And, some candidates are already complaining of another trend: widespread sign theft.
County Councilman Dion Guthrie, who is running for re-election, said at least three of his large, well-secured signs were stolen recently from the Joppa area.
On July 10, he noticed two 4-by-8-foot signs were missing from Joppa Farm Road, near Joppatowne High School. Guthrie reported it to the Sheriff's Office, as the two signs cost "probably close to $300."
Earlier, another sign was taken down on Edgewood Road by Willoughby Beach Road, Guthrie said. That one was 2-by-8-feet and secured to a fence in six to eight places with plastic ties that must have been cut.
"When you are talking about this, you are talking about, someone had to uproot those signs. They had to put them on a truck and haul them away," Guthrie said about the two Joppa Farm Road signs, which were secured with stress poles and two-by-four pieces of lumber.
Sign theft is, unfortunately, a time-honored tradition in Harford County political campaigns. Some candidates call the police when it happens, while others just put up more signs. Some of been known to retaliate in-kind.
With three and a half months to go until general election day on Nov. 4, it's likely the sign thievery is just getting started.
As of Friday, the Harford County Sheriff's Office had logged only two reports of campaign sign thefts, Guthrie's and one from the campaign of Councilman Dick Slutzky, a Republican who is running for county council president. The Slutzky campaign reported about 42 signs stolen, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Guthrie, a Democrat, who is seeking a fourth term representing the Joppatowne and Edgewood areas on the county council, said he has not questioned his opponent, Republican Mike Perrone Jr., regarding the thefts.
The Joppa Farm Road sign was erected near where Perrone lives, he noted, but in addition to having a board for Guthrie's campaign, it also had one for fellow Democrat and council colleague, Mary Ann Lisanti, who is running for House of Delegates in the southern Harford District 34.
"Who has the most to gain from it?" Guthrie asked.
Perrone said he talked with Guthrie several weekends ago and noted Guthrie had a sign cut up on the ground near Perrone's property, before it disappeared.
"I don't deface property," Perrone said, adding he does not know anyone who could have done such a thing.
Perrone also said he has lost a few of his own small signs so far.
"I'm worried about my signs going down," he said.
Art Helton, a Democrat who lost to Del Mary-Dulany James in the primary for the State Senate in District 34, said 40 or 50 of his large signs stolen during the election.
"This is the worst I have seen," Helton, who has run for office numerous times, said.
He noted many large signs, especially along Route 40, were not just missing but had been replaced with his opponent's signs.
In Edgewood, one sign had been in a frame along with a sign for Steve Johnson, who ran for the House of Delegates with Helton but who also lost in the primary. Helton said the frame was left alone.
After Johnson raised the issue, the sign was replaced the next day, he said.
"I think I was targeted more than anyone else I saw," Helton said. "I have no doubt that I was specifically targeted. I never saw anything quite like that."
Helton said the election seemed especially lacking in politeness, and "there does not seem to be any political courtesy."
Some of he large signs were less illuminated and perhaps more prone to theft, he said. But they also were staked down with iron posts and braces, among other things.
Helton first complained about thefts on his Facebook page on June 18.
"Just got a call," he posted on the social media site. "Witness and photograph of theft of my large campaign sign at corner of Lewis Lane and US 40. I've lost several hundred signs[...] What dirty tricks and illegal activity."
Though the Sheriff's Office and municipal law enforcement officials have not reported any great uptick in campaign sign thefts, several complaints have been made in recent months regarding damaged signs.
Guthrie, for one, said he does not see any solution except continuing to replace the signs.
"I don't know what else to do except put a camera on them," he said.
Helton said he did not think the sign thefts contributed to his losing the campaign.
"I doubt it," he said Thursday. "That is not why I lost it."
He wrote on Facebook that "the African American turnout was awful" and, "in the Democratic primary, not one woman lost unless challenged by another woman."
Guthrie, however, thinks the thefts "certainly" could have some impact on his race, which won't be settled until November.
"Whoever is taking them thinks so, or they wouldn't be taking them," he noted.