There comes a point in every St. Petersburg mayoral campaign when a Tampa Bay Times reporter is tasked with writing the obligatory yard sign story.
And, this week, Charlie Frago offered his version, asking, “Do political yard signs matter in St. Petersburg’s mayoral election?“
Now, there are two ways to answer this question. The first is the Nick Hansen way, which we will discuss below. The second is the Mitch Kates way, which is the wrong way, but also the way the Rick Kriseman campaign decided to go.
The route Hansen – Rick Baker’s overqualified campaign manager, err, director — took was, when asked this silly question by a reporter who knows better, is to smile through his teeth and say, “Of course yard signs matter! And that’s why we have hundreds, no make that thousands of yard signs down here at campaign headquarters just ready to make their way into voters’ front lawns.”
Of course Hansen knows the truth about yard signs: that they are the second biggest pain in the ass for a campaign (know-it-all volunteers, of course, being number one) but, as the campaign director, he knows that he no choice but to fill his office with enough coroplast that, once planted in the rightaways of unsuspecting streets, one could hopscotch the entire length of Fourth Street by jumping from one sign to the next.
But neither Hansen, nor any other campaign manager worth their win bonus, would ever impugn the importance of yard signs in modern campaign.
And God forbid you don’t actually have yard signs to hand out to supporters! The moment a candidate hits the campaign trail a day will not go by without one (or ten) well-meaning supporters asking, “When do the yard signs come in?”
‘WHEN THEY’RE GOOD AND FUCKING READY!” is the response every campaign pro would like to give as they think of the wasted Saturday and Sunday they must sacrifice as they beg, borrow, or steal someone else’s pick-up truck in order to haul the hundreds of signs that actually have no place yet to go except in the back of the asbestos-infected office the campaign is leasing for three months.
The ridiculous importance of yard signs in a campaign is so out-of-whack that it inspired, arguably, the greatest single piece of political satire ever produced (“Yard sign with candidate’s name on it electrifies congressional race” via The Onion). But everyone who works on campaigns knows this and deals with it, just like they deal with the salesman who tries to convince a candidate that atop a taxi cab is a smart place to broadcast the campaign’s message.
Everyone that is except Mitch Kates.
Kates, who is now a much-sought-after INTERNATIONAL political consultant, worked for mayoral candidate Scott Wagman in 2009. He was asked then the same question Frago asked this week, ‘Do yard signs matter?’
“I think what’s interesting is it seems like people are just counting them, almost like a poll,” Kates told Creative Loafing. “I have to constantly remind people signs don’t vote.”
Kate’s might as well have kicked a leprechaun in the balls he jinxed himself that bad with that quote. And of course his candidate would lose the election after he defied the political gods with his hubris.
Which brings us to the Rick Kriseman campaign.
According to Frago’s reporting, Bill Bucolo, a Democratic activist and supporter of Kriseman, tweeted a FaceBook post Monday where he lamented what he saw as a lack of enthusiasm for yard signs supporting the Kriseman campaign.
Kriseman campaign officials say they’ll eventually start handing out yard signs, but they’re focusing their efforts on face-to-face interaction. According to Frago’s story, they believe that’s more likely to move the needle among potential voters.
That’s not a great response to Bucolo’s complaint, but neither is it Kates saying “signs don’t vote.”
But then the Kriseman campaign got snarky. When asked by Frago how many signs they planned to distribute, campaign manager Jacob Smith quipped, “More than zero.”
Remember that quote the next time you drive down Dr. Martin Luther King Street and wonder why are there so many more signs for Rick Baker than there are for Rick Kriseman.
How many more signs difference will it be? I bet it’s more than zero.
Seriously, how did the Kriseman campaign manage to screw-up the yard sign question?
It has known for three-and-a-half years that the mayor was running for re-election. The campaign has half-a-million dollars in the bank. It could have ordered the yard signs in March and held them in storage.
Instead, Bill Bucolo, among others, is on social media complaining that he doesn’t see any Rick Kriseman yard signs. Instead, there’s an article in the Times in which Kriseman’s campaign manager (whose track record includes stints on Charlie Crist‘s losing gubernatorial campaign and Alex Sink‘s losing congressional campaign before working as the organizing director for Hillary Clinton‘s historically embarrassing loss in Michigan) is mouthing off about how he knows better than silly ol’ Nick Hansen, whose clients included Jeff Brandes, Jack Latvala and Mike Twitty.
What Kriseman, Smith, and Co. should have said is, “Hey, Charlie come get the answer to that question on Saturday when we dig post holes up and down 34th Street to put up all of our 4′ x 8′ signs.”
Do yard signs vote? No, of course they don’t.
Do yard signs matter? In densely populated St. Pete, a city laid out on a tight grid which funnels residents towards a handful of major streets, you’re damn right they do.
And I’m starting to think Rick Kriseman’s campaign will find out just how much they matter come August 29.