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Signage war in District 6

By Juliet Leyba Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday November 07, 2000

A District 6 campaign war over signage, which has been brewing for several weeks, turned ugly early Saturday morning resulting in several hundred dollars worth of damage and a police investigation. 

Berkeley Lt. Russell Lopes said at about 5:15 a.m. Saturday a confrontation took place between two men near the corner of Walnut and Cedar streets that ended with one man wounded and the other with a dented car and four shattered windows.  

The incident took place when a longtime Berkeley resident and activist was removing Eleanor Pepples campaign signs and fliers posted on telephone poles in District 6 and was spotted by Carl Martineau, a volunteer sign poster for Eleanor Pepples.  

“I was removing signs and bills posted to the poles, like I’ve done everyday for about 13 years, and I heard a voice coming out of the darkness. The next thing I knew there was a bright light shining in my face and I was being interrogated and accused of campaign sabotage,” said the District 6 resident who asked not to be identified. 

The alleged victim said Martineau was holding a long metal flashlight two feet from his face. After exchanging words the victim said he retreated into his car. 

“That’s when the glass started flying,” he said. “First he kicked my car. Then he circled my car and bashed in my rear passenger windows, the front seat passenger window and shattered the front windshield with the flashlight. When I was speeding away I saw blood on the windshield.” 

Martineau said that his wounds were superficial, and he treated them himself. He declined to comment on the incident. 

The alleged victim said that he was within the law to remove the signs and that he has been “cleaning the poles” to help preserve his neighborhood. 

“I am not registered to vote in District 6. I am apolitical. I clean the poles and pick up trash because I want to keep my neighborhood clean and beautiful and it’s perfectly legal.” 

Lopes said that there are two possible crimes the department is investigating in connection with the incident.  

“One is going to be determined by the laws governing the posting and removal of campaign signs and the other is misdemeanor for property damage . . . possibly a felony depending on the amount of damage and intent,” Lopes said.  

Lopes said it is illegal to post signs on any pole in Berkeley with one exception.  

“Around election time it is legal to temporarily post signs on city-owned poles. That would mean metal light poles, not PG&E poles or other utility poles. It is also illegal to remove election signs from city-owned poles during election time.” 

Lopes also said it is illegal to post signs on any or all poles that are not owned by the city. It is legal to remove signs from those poles. 

In addition to allegedly bashing in car windows, Martineau admits to calling supporters of District 6 incumbent Betty Olds.  

After the car incident early Saturday morning, Martineau said he made several calls to people who have made campaign contributions to Olds and accused them of campaign sabotage. He admitted threatening to contact the American Civil Liberties Union to report alleged First Amendment violations and filing suit against her campaign and supporters. Martineau also said that he has contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigations in connection with the signage incidents. 

“He called me at 6 a.m. in the morning on Saturday,” Denny Abrams said. “He was telling me that because I have contributed financially to Olds campaign I am responsible for campaign sabotage against Pepples.” 

Abrams expressed anger at being jolted out of bed so early and said that he has known Olds for more than 30 years. 

“I can give my money to whomever I choose. He accused me of tearing down signs and was hysterical. He kept saying I was violating Pepples right to free speech. What about my right to a good nights sleep.” 

Olds, who was extremely upset that her supporters were being called and harassed, said she placed several calls to Pepples requesting that she “call off” Martineau. The calls were not returned, Olds said. 

Olds has also denied any involvement in the “sign wars.”  

“I would never ask anyone working for my campaign to take down signs on poles nor would I ever put a sign on a pole,” she said. 

In response to the car incident and early morning phone calls Pepples said Martineau was not working for her. 

“Carl Martineau is not acting on my behalf. Nor is he acting on behalf of my campaign. He is not connected to anything my campaign is about.” 

Pepples and Martineau do connect on one thing.  

Both feel that their First Amendment rights have been violated. Pepples said that she felt sorry, disappointed and disturbed about recent events. 

“My first amendment rights to free speech and those of my supporters have been violated. The signs are legal. I have serious questions as to whether this has been a fair election.” 

Martineau said and others he has a history of losing his temper. 

In an e-mail sent to numerous city officials Nov. 2, Martineau admitted to feeling an “uncontrollable anger” and to being ejected from a candidates forum at Cragment Elementary School after a verbal outburst.  

The alleged victim, who said he has had trouble with Martineau on two earlier occasions, filed a report with the Berkeley Police Department and will be asked to identify Martineau from a police line-up later this week.