Call it political skulduggery or just a sign of the times.

Last weekend, while sensible, law-abiding Rockville citizens slept, some of the city's more criminally and perhaps politically motivated residents took to the streets, swiping campaign signs belonging to Mayor Steven Van Grack and City Council member Douglas Duncan.

On Monday, Van Grack, whose bid for a second term is being challenged by Duncan, issued a news release decrying "the organized theft" Friday night of "75 to 100" signs from lawns in the Horizon Hills, Fallsmead and New Mark Commons areas. Those sections of the city are generally considered to be Van Grack stongholds.

Van Grack said a sign from his family's lawn was among the casualties of the sneak attack. When he went outside to investigate, he said, "the neighborhood was barren."

Duncan chose not to issue a written statement, but said in an interview that 50 to 75 of his signs were reported missing or destroyed on Friday and Saturday nights in the Fallsmead, College Gardens and Woodley Gardens sections of the city. Duncan lives in Woodley Gardens.

Rockville Police Chief Jared Stout said his department had confirmed the theft of only five Van Grack signs. The others, he said, may have been reported to the campaigns, not to police.

Both candidates put the cost of the signs at $1 each.

The Van Grack campaign reported the thefts to the police in addition to damaged lawns and a vandalized mailbox. Duncan said he does not intend to report his purloined posters to the police.

"After all," Duncan said, "our campaign workers have nearly replaced them all. It looks like it could be a prank by some kids for all we know."

Van Grack spokesman Patrick McGarey said in the statement that the thefts were not carried out by "unorganized vigilantes." He said, " . . . A band of individuals was cruising the streets . . . stealing Van Grack signs, destroying property and spreading mayhem."

The news release calls the actions "gutter politics, pure and simple."

Duncan said he is "offended by any implication" that his campaign was behind the sign stealing.

He said, "I wouldn't do that . . . . I have many more signs -- about 400 -- than Van Grack. I would have more to lose."