Alleged Word Rustlers And Political Litterbugs Face The Music After Primary '96.
By Tim Vanderpool
WHEN IT COMES to the democratic trash called campaign signs, nobody--but nobody--seems to appreciate a good manly deed these days.
Especially if your name is Carmine Cardamone, you're gunning for the District 11 state House seat, you're tooling down Grant Road after-hours in a borrowed Chevy truck bloated from other folks' electoral litter, and you're toting a political U-Haul stuffed with a cantankerous Samsonite named John Kromko.
And particularly if you're basking in the onerous glow of a curbside cherry-top on primary election-eve.
Cardamone landed in that rancid pickle when he and twin brother Larry were nailed by Tucson's finest at 2 a.m., September 10.
According to their report, cops spotted the allegedly larcenous Cardamones snagging a sign belonging to county attorney candidate Barbara LaWall from the corner of Grant and Silverbell roads. "He (Carmine) was looking over his shoulder and looking around," noted Officer J. Kneup. "He then hurriedly walked to his truck and threw it all in the back...."
Kneup also spotted a Carmen Dolny placard nestled in the Chevy's bed. At the time Dolny was on the verge of trouncing Kromko in a nasty Precinct 4 justice of the peace primary race.
Both Dolny and LaWall quickly pressed charges against both Cardamones.
While Carmine Cardamone admits he wasn't trying to beautify the local landscape with his early morning escapades, he claims neither was he trying to clutter other candidates' political futures.
Instead, Cardamone insists Chevy owner and unofficial LaWall campaign grunt Ed Kennedy asked him to retrieve any ravaged LaWall boards while making his own sign-planting rounds.
He also claims he was just doing Dolny a good turn by extending her the same favor, and that the entire mess hinges on a rift between his two long-time political cronies.
"The whole thing is ridiculous," Cardamone says. "There's a lot going on behind the scenes. I've known Carmen and John Kromko for 20 years, and now I'm the punching bag.
"She said to people that unless I finger Kromko, and lie and say that he stole 70 signs, she's not going to drop the charges. The situation about the signs isn't about me. It's never been about me. It's about Carmen getting back at Kromko for a nasty campaign letter he sent out about her."
Meanwhile, back at the one-time ranchland now known as Oro Valley, omnipresent candidate Joe Sweeney was about to face his own signage Waterloo. Sweeney, who's been losing for something on the ballot since Clovis Man stumped for evolution, discovered his calling cards in the mushrooming northwest bedroom burg were receiving pricey citations immediately following election day. (This time around he was again defeated by incumbent Jim Kolbe in the District 5 Republican primary race for the U.S. House).
There's no doubt Sweeney's plaques deserve special attention: They invariably picture their guy looking either slightly tight, or like he just received a surprise proctologic exam that turned out kinda fun.
But that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to have his happily startled visage spread through the sprawling suburb, he says. "You put a sign up, and they should give you some warning. I think they tagged me arbitrarily. I never had a problem in '94, and I think this is a violation of free speech."
Besides, he says his environmental damage was honorably (or financially) kept to a minimum. "I only put up six or seven signs, and they were tagged. It was a $1,000-a-day violation."
Yep, that's the fine, says Oro Valley Planning and Zoning Technician Dee Widero. But she says seven other candidates joined Sweeny in the cul-de-sac hotseat. "And $1,000 is about the most they'd be fined."
Nor is Sweeney's plight anything new. "From my understanding, Oro Valley has always been pretty strict about this. The signs are not what people expect to see here--we have a pretty city," Widero says.
Ironically, the jury is still tilting at windmills as to whether the whole billboard breeze is for naught, says Henry Kenski, an associate UA political communications prof and aide to Sen. Jon Kyl.
"I lean towards signs," he said. "I think they have a subliminal impact and a saturation effect. But no one can tell you if they're effective for sure. It's hard to prove."
Others fall in the other campaign camp, he says. "Some people say spending money on direct mailing is most important. But a lot of local candidates who can't afford to do direct mailing, especially early on in the race, are into signs."
Barbara LaWall, who says she lost more than 200 pieces of her roadside artistry prior to the primary--at a loss upwards of $1,000--isn't sure if their disappearance made a difference in her squeak-by primary win over personal injury lawyer Rick Gonzalez.
"I don't know how important (the signs) were," she says. "I mean, sure it's important for name ID. The popular idea is that they make a difference. But I do not know the impact."
LaWall also says the outcome of Cardamone's case is out of her hands. "I don't have anything to do with it at this point. The city prosecutor decides what will happen."
And she says Ed Kennedy had no permission from her campaign staff for anything, despite a letter he issued after the fact affirming Cardamone's innocence.
For his part, Kennedy--who says he placed two LaWall signs in Carmine Cardamone's yard with permission--succinctly calls LaWall's claim "bullshit."
Carmen Dolny, who likewise lost a substantial number of signs, says she'll climb onto the stand if the Cardamone case proceeds.
"I haven't heard anything from the prosecutor," she says. "But (Carmine) had no authorization to touch any of my signs. We have lost maybe close to 100, plus the labor involved in putting them up. Then there's the fact that I like to compete fair and square."
As for whether Cardamone was acting at Kromko's behest, she says, "I'll leave the inference to you."
Still, she's hardly reluctant to say her primary opponent ran a devious campaign. "I think you're looking at a sleazy candidate," she says.
That supposition harbors the crux of the biscuit, says Carmine Cardamone. "I told you what happened," he says, "and there are people who will testify, and they want to have a news conference.
"It's like I said," he says. "I even talked to Carmen the day of the election. So why would I do this?"
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