Howard County politics took a less-than-civil turn over the weekend, when signs for Republican state Senate candidate Jody Venkatesan and sheriff candidate Jim Fitzgerald, a Democrat, were defaced by graffiti.

The signs, which had been erected in front of the Shell gas station on the corner of Route 216 and All Saints Road, were defaced between Friday night and Saturday morning, according to Venkatesan.

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Sprayed over the names of Venkatesan and Republican delegate candidates Jimmy Williams and Chris Yates, was the message "1.5 BIL ABSOLUTE POVERTY." Next to it, Fitzgerald's sign was sprayed with the message "Stand" and an arrow pointing up.

Venkatesan and several leaders in the local Indian American and Sikh communities have denounced the message as a "racist attack," arguing that "1.5 billion" is a reference to the population of India. According to the CIA, the population of the South Asian country was about 1.24 billion in July 2014.

"District 13, in which Jody is running, has a large segment of Sikhs, Asians and Indian Americans," wrote Manny Singh, a Sikh community leader, in an email that went out to the press. "Jody Venkatesan's Indian and Asian heritage reflects the community in which he lives. Our Sikh families deserve to be treated better."

On Monday, District 3 County Councilmember Jen Terrasa, a Democrat who represents the North Laurel area where Venkatesan's sign was defaced, said she had asked the chief of police to look into the incident, and called the vandalism "unacceptable." District 13 Del. Shane Pendergrass, also a Democrat, agreed, writing that she hoped the police "are able to catch these ignorant people, so they are forced to face the consequences of hateful actions."

Howard police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said the vandalism is "being investigated as a destruction of property case," though she added that "there was not a 'hateful message' involved."

When asked about the vandalism, Fitzgerald said, "I have no idea what it means." He said he had had some signs stolen, "wood and all," during the primary, "but that's the cost of doing business."

Venkatesan called the vandalism "offensive" and "shocking." He said he's had issues throughout the campaign with his signs being knocked down and destroyed.

"It's just unfortunate," he said. "It's not the way we're supposed to be."

His opponent, Democratic Del. Guy Guzzone, said he "find[s] it totally unacceptable that anyone would damage anyone's attempt at political speech."

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