Political agreement buried, along with plenty of lawn signs

In the past, Barrington lawns were free of signs, but not any more

By Josh Bickford
Posted 10/21/20

For years, the two major political parties in town had an agreement banning the use of political lawn signs.

So while residents in other towns covered their yards with colorful signs, folks in …

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Political agreement buried, along with plenty of lawn signs

In the past, Barrington lawns were free of signs, but not any more


For years, the two major political parties in town had an agreement banning the use of political lawn signs.

So while residents in other towns covered their yards with colorful signs, folks in Barrington refrained, keeping their properties free from the candidates' cardboard advertisements.

But that is not the case anymore.

For the past few election cycles, residents have displayed candidates' signs on their lawns, and this year it appears even more signs have popped up.

Pam Lauria, the chairwoman of the Barrington Democratic Town Committee, has planted around a dozen political signs across her front lawn on Martin Avenue. She said the signs represent each candidate she plans to vote for this election, and a few she supports but who are not in her district.

She said displaying political lawn signs are a great way to let people know who is running for office.

"This year it's particularly important," she said, as candidates have not been able to go door-to-door or meet residents at community events. "All those opportunities are gone."

Ms. Lauria also said she believes political lawn signs are a great way to tell your neighbors about your political leanings. She added that once the election is over she will take down most of the signs — she plans to leave her "Hate Has No Home Here" lawn sign.

History lesson

Mary Alyce Gasbarro was a member of the Barrington Town Council years ago when officials considered turning the agreement into an ordinance, which would have made it illegal for Barrington residents to post political signs on their lawns.

The town solicitor told Ms. Gasbarro that banning political lawn signs would be a violation of the First Amendment. So instead, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican town committees in Barrington opted for an unofficial agreement, a handshake of sorts that promised candidates from both parties would keep their signs off lawns and roadsides across town.

"It was a gentleman's agreement," Ms. Gasbarro said.

Some people believed the agreement promoted Barrington's snobbish stereotype, while others appreciated its aesthetic value.

For the most part, the agreement remained in effect until just a few years ago. Ms. Gasbarro said some Republicans in town were the first to break the deal, while Geoff Grove, a member of the town's Republican committee, said it was a Democrat who crossed the line first.

"That agreement pre-dated my affiliation with the BRTC (Barrington Republican Town Committee)," Mr. Grove wrote. "I don’t know who ‘shook hands’ on it; no one ever talked to me about it, but I was appreciative of it. I think that lawn signs detract from our town. To my recollection, Democrat Jim Hasenfus was the first one to break the agreement. Then, in the next election, people put up signs and the dam broke."

Former Barrington Town Council President and current District 68 Representative June Speakman is happy that the agreement no longer stands. She said that lawn signs are a great way for people to express their political opinions in a respectful way. And, she added, they work.

"I never understood the objection, other than the visual clutter," Rep. Speakman said.

She said she first became aware of the agreement when she ran for Barrington School Committee in 1998. Rep. Speakman, who teaches political science at Roger Williams University, said more signs could lead to a more vibrant, politically-involved populous. She also said that Barrington already allowed lawn signs of a different sort.

"My concern is that you drive through Barrington and you see signs for roofers or the pool guy," Rep. Speakman said, questioning why people would not want to share their support for local candidates.

Rep. Speakman wrote about the lawn sign issue years ago in a letter to the editor.

"While we tolerate a plethora of yard signs year round advertising our preferences in contractors, painters, lawn services, roofers, pool installers, and real estate agents, we somehow find it distasteful to display our political preferences for a month or so every two years," she wrote.

"How, I wonder, is our endorsement of these businesses any more respectable than an open acknowledgment of our favored candidates?"

Mr. Grove said he understands that residents have the right to promote their preferred candidates through yard signs.

"I might not like it, but I have no authority to stop it," he wrote.

Bad side to signs

Longtime Barrington resident John Alessandro is running for town council this fall, and has shared lawn signs with those supporting his campaign. This weekend, he learned some disturbing news regarding one of his signs: "My sign on the corner of New Meadow and Sowams Road has been stolen for the second time," he wrote in an email to the Barrington Times. Mr. Alessandro said he spoke to the homeowner where the sign had been located. He said that man "saw a women with a ponytail get out of an SUV and take the sign and put it in her car then drive away. He was on his roof and could not get a picture. This happened at 3 p.m. today in broad daylight."

Mr. Alessandro said he is frustrated with the hypocritical tendencies of some residents.

"Hate has no home here and tolerance are nice words but do not apply to most of the people who display the lawn sign," he wrote. "Sad days for Barrington."

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