TAKING SIDES

Candidate Banners Can Leave Clients, Businesses Bruised

Signs for the Republican team of John McCain and Sarah Palin near the marquee at Colony South Hotel & Conference Center in Clinton -- right in Barack Obama territory -- have spurred calls for boycotts of the facility.
Signs for the Republican team of John McCain and Sarah Palin near the marquee at Colony South Hotel & Conference Center in Clinton -- right in Barack Obama territory -- have spurred calls for boycotts of the facility. (By Jenna Johnson -- The Washington Post)
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By Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2008

The sign went up Sunday evening, bold black letters against the stark white background of the marquee at the Colony South Hotel & Conference Center in Clinton: "Country First. McCain/Palin."

By daybreak, pandemonium had broken loose all across heavily Democratic Prince George's County. Many local supporters of Democrat Barack Obama, jolted by the message as they headed down Branch Avenue on their Monday morning commutes, grabbed cellphones and BlackBerrys to notify friends. Operators of neighborhood e-mail group lists cried foul to their memberships. The NAACP logged calls. Community leaders demanded boycotts of the hotel, a common venue for Democratic events.

"Businesspeople have to be mindful of the sentiments and sensibilities of their market trading area, and Prince George's County is overwhelmingly for Obama," said community activist Arthur Turner of Kettering, who was among those advocating a boycott. "People I have talked to look at the sign as a slap in the face. They feel it was blatant disrespect. . . . I have heard people say they will no longer patronize Colony South because of that disrespect."

The outcry over the hotel marquee tapped into the passion -- and sometimes anger -- that has characterized this fall's presidential campaign. Supporters of Republican candidate John McCain have vented their rage at rallies this week, applauding thunderously as McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, accused Obama of "palling around with terrorists."

Prince George's, though, is clearly Obama Country. As the nation's wealthiest mostly black community, where about 77 percent of registered voters are Democrats, residents have Obama placards in their yards, bumper stickers on their cars and the candidate's visage on their T-shirts.

The marquee supporting the GOP ticket in "an area that is strongly African American was like putting a stink bomb in the middle of the living room," said University of Maryland political Professor Ron Walters. "What it does show is the emotions that are around this campaign and this election."

Colony South General Manager Alan Vahabzadeh said that the hotel, one of several Washington area businesses that has dared to venture into the political thicket, got the message after about 100 phone calls and three dozen e-mails. The sign came down Wednesday afternoon.

"I didn't even realize it was going to be like this," he said in an interview. The last thing "we want to do is lose business," he added.

But Friday afternoon, motorists noticed new signs -- broad banners attached to wooden stakes in the hotel's front yard -- again touting the Republicans.

Vahabzadeh did not return later calls seeking comment, but an employee said the phones were again ringing with complaints.

And Democratic activists started talking boycott. That could mean canceling political events at the hotel and urging residents to skip its Wednesday night karaoke events and Sunday brunches.

"While a business has the right to display what it chooses, the public has a right to show its contempt for that decision, including boycotting," said Mel Franklin, president of the Greater Marlboro Democratic Club.


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