Each time Eric Folsom drives by the anti-President Obama campaign sign in Hanson, he tries to shield his young children from seeing it – that’s because it shows a young girl giving the middle finger to the president.
“If (my 6-year-old daughter) saw that, she’d say ‘Why is that little girl doing that? What does that mean?’” said Folsom, 27, of Whitman. “How do I explain that?”
Just a few feet away outside Sullivans Inc., a motorcycle accessories distributor at 121 Franklin St., is another large sign showing the president. It says: “Somewhere in Kenya a village is missing its idiot. Obama One Big Ass Mistake America, Vote Mitt Romney for 2012!” Two images of the hammer and sickle, which are symbolic of communism, are shown on Obama’s shirt collar.
Are the signs over the top?
Some passers-by said the campaign signs go too far and are offensive, while others said it’s a matter of free speech. Either way, the signs have drawn a lot of attention on Franklin Street in this small town of about 10,000 and they violate town bylaws, said Hanson officials.
Robert Sullivan, the business owner, did not get a necessary permit to put up the signs, said Hanson building commissioner and zoning enforcement officer Robert P. Curran.
“It is a sign that ... is in violation of general bylaws,” Curran said Wednesday. “It also doesn’t meet any of the zoning bylaw criteria for the signs to exist as they are.”
Curran informed Sullivan of the violations in a letter from the town dated Aug. 2, town records show.
When The Enterprise visited the business Wednesday, Sullivan sent down an employee who said he would not comment.
Sullivan’s attorney, Roger S. Davis of Quincy, cited free speech when asked about the signs Wednesday.
“First amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It’s called freedom of speech,” Davis said.
When asked to comment about the signs violating town bylaws, Davis said the matter “has already been resolved” with Town Administrator Rene Read.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss it. That’s my understanding,” Davis said.
In a letter to Curran dated Aug. 8, Davis questioned why the signs violate town bylaws.
“The signs in question are political signs and therefore, they do not appear to meet the definition of a sign described in the billboard article,” Davis wrote.
Curran said: “It’s a sign. That’s my interpretation.”
Sullivan has 30 days from the date of the Aug. 2 letter to appeal the town’s order. Curran said he has not made an appeal. If he does not appeal, the issue could end up in court, officials said.
Police and town officials said there’s a more pressing concern to take down the signs: they’re placed close to a dangerous intersection where people are stopping their cars to look at the signs and take photographs.
“They call that ‘Dead man’s curve.’ It’s pretty dangerous,” Curran said.
After police received several 911 calls, Sullivan took down a spotlight – at the request of police – that had been placed over the sign with the young girl giving the middle finger, police Sgt. Peter Daley said
Some motorists complained that “the light was shining in their eyes,” Daley said.
Police have received more than 40 calls in recent weeks from people complaining about the signs, mostly to vent about their content, Daley said.
Several motorists on Sunday, including retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Jim Smith and his passenger, Army Staff Sgt. Mark Chetwynd, stopped to get out of their cars and take pictures of the signs. Other motorists honked loudly while driving by.
When Smith and Chetwynd first saw the sign calling the president an “idiot,” both said “Wow,” but they said they did not find issue with the signs, citing free speech.
“I’m shocked. I haven’t seen anything like this around here. But I am voting for Mitt Romney,” said Smith, 49, of East Bridgewater.
Chetwynd, of Halifax, said the sign with the young girl giving the middle finger is “kind of funny.”
Minutes earlier, Stephen McGrath of Plymouth stopped to photograph the signs while on his way to a party Sunday.
“They seem pretty accurate to me,” said McGrath, 26, a former Brockton resident.
McGrath, a naval veteran, said he doesn’t have any issue with the signs.
“People are sensitive nowadays anyway. Those days are past, so I’m not too worried about it,” McGrath said. “I’ve seen (Obama portrayed) with Hitler mustaches, it’s hilarious, the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
“It definitely made my day better,” he said of the signs.
But James Brown, a Brockton resident, called the signs “ridiculous” and “over the top.”
Brown, who saw the signs while riding his bike through Hanson on Sunday, said he thinks the sign calling Obama an “idiot” from a Kenyan village is racist.
“I don’t know how anybody can approve of that,” said Brown, 28, who is black.
“If you want to support Mitt Romney, you can put up positive messages for Mitt Romney rather than negative slogans for Obama,” said Brown, who teaches middle-school children in an after-school program Cambridge.
“That type of statement is real real redneck,” Brown said. “It’s regressive and not progressive.”
The signs show that as a nation “we still have a lot of growing to do,” he said.