Get ready for the sign wars


If the sign wars have begun in Warren, then the front lines may just be lower Main Street.

On one side of the road, Bob Oliveira's giant sign for Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty, a Republican, is flanked on either side by an American flag, with a Rhode Island flag in the middle. Around the periphery, LED Christmas lights make it stand out at night.

Across the street, Dan Mercer's sign, for Democratic challenger Anthony Gemma, is even bigger. It's actually two signs set end to end in the shape of a snowplow. The Doherty campaign would only give Mr. Oliveira one sign, but Mr. Mercer, a long-time friend of Mr. Gemma, got two.

How does Mr. Oliveira feel about it?

"If I get tired of looking at it, maybe I'll go over there and put tape over it," he joked.

Welcome to Warren, where there are no laws specifically regulating the installation of political signs and, unlike other towns such as Barrington, no 'gentleman's agreements' between political parties not to use them.

"There's nothing, no agreement, no law," said Mark Smiley, chairman of the Republican Town Committee.

The closest thing there is in the Town of Warren Zoning Ordinance is a reference to temporary signs, which in some areas are allowed to be in place no more than 30 days and under the ordinance are can be no more than 12 square feet. You won't find any specific mention of political signs.

"The placement of political signs is legal, not only in Warren but also nationwide — the protection derives from the First Amendment freedom of speech doctrine," noted Bill Nash, Warren's building official. "This being said, I believe some zoning regulations are permissible when it comes to political signs but that is a Town Council and Solicitor matter."

Both the Doherty and Gemma signs exceed 12 square feet, especially the Gemma sign. But Mr. Mercer, who has known Mr. Gemma much of his life and worked on his campaign two years ago, said he is sure that the sign is OK.

"The campaign called in and they got it cleared first," said Mr. Gemma, who lives in the 897 Main St. house owned by the son of Warren Town Clerk Julie Coelho.

"It's a big sign, no bones about it. But since we live in such a high traffic area they (the campaign) asked me if it would be alright to put up a high visibility sign. Obviously, I was happy to do that."

Both Mr. Oliveira and Mr. Mercer said that, should their candidate win in the statewide primary on Tuesday, Sept. 11, they'll support their candidates right through November.

"We'll leave one up right through the election," said Mr. Mercer.

"It's not going anywhere," added Mr. Oliveira. He's been asked about the sign, he said, but his response is always the same:

"I say it's not big enough."


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.