By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
MILFORD – June 1, drivers on Route 28 north of this village noticed someone had thrown paint on the Trump 2020 billboard.
As July 1 approached, drivers on Route 28 north of this village noticed someone has put up a brand new, shiny Trump 2020 billboard.
“It’s exactly the same,” said Anna Johnson, 17-year manager at the Rome Sign Co., which owns the billboard and rents it out. Only, this time, “I believe they’ve set up cameras,” she said.
“They” is “the person who contracted with us.” She’s not permitted to reveal that individual’s identity.
As it happens, the June 1 vandalism wasn’t the first bit of trouble the Trump 2020 placard caused for Rome Sign, which has 100 some billboards, primarily in Oneida County, but also in Chenango, Madison and Otsego counties, as well as into the Adirondacks.
When the billboard first went up last fall, “We actually got a call from the Milford legal department,” because the village had received complaints from, presumably, people opposed to President Trump.
“Being in business, we can’t choose sides here,” said Johnson. “As long as it’s not derogatory, we don’t pick sides. We put it up. But it isn’t our (message).”
Mayor Brian Pokorny said the village didn’t contact the sign company – that must have been another entity – but he did communicate with NYCOM, the state Conference of Mayors when the billboard first went up.
He did so “because it is on village property that is leased to Rome Signs.” The mayor said “I wanted to make sure it was Constitutional and the village was abiding by the law.
“I was told it was OK, and that asking the sign company to get permission before such billboards went up would be a slippery slope under the First Amendment.”
Johnson consulted her company’s legal department. “If they found it was in any way bad taste, we would have been instructed to tame it down.”
But it was found to be simple politics. “Whoever put the sign up, they want to support this gentleman” – the president – “in 2020,” as stated, Rome Sign concluded.
There are some messages “we’ve said no to,” she continued, primarily if local candidates have a negative message or unprovable claim to advertise.
She pointed out the other half of the Milford billboard advertises McDonald’s. Removing Trump 2020 “would be no different than if Burger King called and told us the McDonald’s had to come down.”
None of its billboards are insured, Johnson said, so it split the cost of repairing Trump 2020 with the unnamed customer. Because of the vandalism, “it became a little more expensive to rent,” said the business manager. “We’re going to add it into our monthly price.”
At the time the billboard was defaced, Sheriff Richard J. Devlin Jr. said it could lead to a charge of criminal mischief. But since he had received no complaint, he didn’t plan an investigation.