Church Precinct Becomes Battleground for Campaign Space
A Dave Eggers and Bob Hackworth campaign sign caused a back-and-forth exchange between a campaign volunteer and a poll worker outside First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin on Tuesday.
Two campaign signs. Two swaths of grass. Two reactions.
A First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin maintenance official removed a "Bob Hackworth for Mayor" yard sign planted on a vacant swath of prime campaign real estate. A sign for incumbant Dave Eggers rested against a tree nearby.
The swath of grass belongs to the church and borders its parking lot, where voters parked to cast their vote at precinct 537 on Tuesday.
Another grass patch, which runs a stretch of Highland Avenue and is divided by a public sidewalk, is considered public right of way. Campaign signs are allowed there. It was cluttered with a rainbow of signs, with no visual breathing room.
Campaigner Bill McElligott, who'd been standing on the corner much of the day, returned early from his late lunch break to dispute the removal.
McElligott is a supporter of Hackworth, a former Dunedin mayor opposing Eggers. McElligott lost his city fire marshal job this year due to budget cuts, according to City Manager Rob DiSpirito.
McElligott and the church official shared a passionate exchange before the church official went back inside.
Minutes later, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, who volunteered to oversee seven poll locations in Dunedin on Election Day, approached much like an umpire to the corner, which was occupied by two Hackworth supporters and a quiet Peter Nehr supporter. The campaigners said they'd received positive feedback, thank yous and waves all day.
"They are a 501(c)3," Cretekos began to explain. "They cannot get involved in politics. ... They are asking that you stand on the sidewalk or on the public right of way."
Cretekos explained that because of their tax status, according to IRS laws, a person standing on church property with a campaign sign "could imply they they are endorsing a candidate and they could lose their tax-exempt status."
"So any car with a bumper sticker in the parking lot isn't allow to be here?" McElligott argued.
Cretekos said that was a completely different situation.
"The church requests that you don't stand on their property," he said. "It's very hard for us to get polling places —"
Cretekos was interrupted.
"They shouldn't be a polling place then," McElligott said. "I believe they are infringing on my rights as an American citizen."
Cretekos asked that McElligott respect the church's wish. McElligott said he would as he held his Hackworth sign, one foot on the sidewalk, one foot half planted on the church-side of the grass.
Cretekos returned inside.
The Eggers sign abandoned temporarily by an earlier campaign volunteer remained leaning against a tree on the church-owned side of grass.
"Obviously that's politically motivated," McElligott said.