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Bandit stealing political signs leaves Silver Spring residents wondering why

Silver Spring resident Rick Stack has been a victim of a sign vigilante. Stack stands next to his campaign signs in front of his house on September 2, 2010. His signs had been plucked from his front yard and tossed away more than once.
Silver Spring resident Rick Stack has been a victim of a sign vigilante. Stack stands next to his campaign signs in front of his house on September 2, 2010. His signs had been plucked from his front yard and tossed away more than once. (Juana Arias For The Washington Post)

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By Annys Shin
Sunday, September 12, 2010

A couple of months ago, Kathy Jentz awoke to find that someone had uprooted signs supporting three political candidates from the corner of her yard in Silver Spring. Two signs were missing, and the third had been left in the street. Since Jentz lives at the busy intersection of Fenton Street and Philadelphia Avenue, near Montgomery College, she chalked it up to a clumsy biker or a wayward drunk. She replaced the signs.

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"I realize now, those were the warning shots," Jentz said. The warning shots of the Silver Spring sign vigilante.

A few weeks later, Jentz came home to find one of her new signs torn and tossed into the bushes. She replaced it the next day.

Some weeks after that, in early August, her signs were ripped out again, only this time, the perpetrator also left a copy of the county's sign regulations.

Unbeknown to Jentz, during the same period, a pattern of unsolicited sign weeding and anonymous missives was repeated at least a dozen other addresses around East Silver Spring and North Takoma Park, with many homes hit more than once.

Neighbors began trading stories and comparing notes. A call to the county permitting office made clear that the missives and sign-pulling were not the work of any government official. The number of incidents pointed to only one conclusion: A political sign bandit was on the loose.

On the list of public safety priorities, yanking yard signs ranks lower than the car break-ins and burglaries that pepper the neighborhood crime blotter. And with primary elections coming Tuesday, some amount of stealing or defacing of campaign signs is normal. But the vigilante's narrow geographic focus and persistence has set him -- or her -- apart from your run-of-the-mill mischief-maker. Residents find it unsettling that the culprit probably lives among them.

In May, Kit Bonson of Gist Avenue found on her doorstep a three-page, single-spaced letter written in response to a "War is not the answer" sign she has had in her yard since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"I pass by the sign every morning," the letter reads. "If war is not the answer, what is? I've had many thoughts on why your sign is incorrect; war has solved some things and provided answers to certain questions -- such as whether, for example, there would be a 1000-Year Reich."

Bonson said in an e-mail, "I was perplexed why someone would write such a long and bizarre letter about my antiwar sign, but then not put a name to it."

A few weeks later, Bonson received a copy of the county rules about campaign signs. "It was hard not to presume it was the same person," she said.

But who could the vigilante be? One woman suspected her ex-husband but ruled him out after a Washington Post reporter showed her a copy of the sign-ripper's handwriting.


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