CORNING, NY – A Steuben County resident has been arrested for allegedly stealing a controversial campaign sign belonging to the Tom Reed for Congress reelection effort.
According to various media reports, including Ithaca.com, and a media release from the Reed Campaign, Rev. Gary McCaslin, a Democratic activist and retired pastor of the First Baptist Church in Painted Post, was charged with petit larceny for taking a sign that was placed near other political signs put up to support Democratic candidates for the recent NY 23rd Congressional District primary election. The signs being placed by the Republican Reed’s campaign simply say “Extreme Ithaca Liberal” and provided a web address to a website that is critical of the Democratic candidates who ran in the primary.
McCaslin was reportedly charged after a recorded confrontation with Reed’s campaign manager, Nicholas Weinstein, in which McCaslin admitted to having “a bunch” of signs.
According to a Tom Reed for Congress media release, the sign was placed standing less than two hours before it was taken by McCaslin.
Weinstein learned of the sign’s whereabouts because the campaign had placed a tracking device in them. Weinstein said the tracking devices were added to the extreme Ithaca liberal signs because many were coming up missing in recent weeks. Weinstein later returned to McCaslin’s home to retrieve the tracking device because it was not included with the sign that had been picked up earlier. During that encounter, McCaslin said he was keeping the tracker and suggested Weinstein call the police.
According to Ithaca.com, McCaslin’s attorney, Christina Bruner Sonsire, said her client took the sign from a public space on July 2 (after the primary was over), thinking it was trash that needed to be removed. He also picked up signs for two other Democratic candidates who were also at the location. In addition, a woman in one of the videos provided by Reed’s campaign who was also at McCaslin’s residence said the signs were removed from the highway “as a gesture of good will.”
As a result McCalin’s attorney says there was no wrong doing and plans to fight the charge.
According to the media release from Tom Reed for Congress, McCaslin is described as a “liberal activist” due to his involvement with the Citizens for a Better Southern Tier group.
“It is no surprise that our opponents are resorting to stealing our signs,” Weinstein said. “They know just how far out of touch they are from values the majority of us care about and are willing to go to criminal lengths to try and hide their ‘Extreme Ithaca Liberal’ agenda from the public.”
Chautauqua County Democratic election commissioner (and chair of the Chautauqua County Democratic Committee) Norm Green tells WRFA it is illegal to remove political signs from private property, but if the signs are on the public right of way and an election is over, then he doubts it’s stealing.
“If the signs were on private property, they are certainly under the jurisdiction of the private property owner,” Green explained via email. “If the signs are on the public right of way, then I doubt it’s stealing. I would agree with the gentleman’s lawyer. He was doing a public service by picking up these signs from the public right of way and tossing them.”
Green was also suspicious of the motives behind the Reed campaign in the sign design, placement, and use of tracking devices.
“The signs didn’t say, ‘Elect Tom Reed.’ They said something else and they had a tracking device, so we know what Tom Reed was trying to make happen,” Green said. “The silliness that has been the hallmark of all of Tom Reed’s past campaigns continues and will now apparently play out in court.”
When it comes to general rules regarding campaign signs, Green said there isn’t much that can be done to regulate what they say or where and when they are placed.
“We do have communities that have tried to legislate political signs. But most have come to understand that the US Supreme Court has generally ruled against political sign limitations,” Green said.