Gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich stood in front of a oversized sign bearing his name and basked in the glow of a made-for-TV campaign flap that cropped up, apparently organically, over the past week.
The controversy: A Baltimore County man who supports the former governor displayed a 32-square foot “Ehrlich for Governor” sign on the lawn of his Dulaney Valley Road home. The supporter, it seems, violated a long held county zoning ordinance that prohibits large signs and was slapped with a $200 citation. (The brouhaha was first reported by The Towson Times.)
The owner of the sign, Steven Kolbe, said the fine is an assault on his right to free speech and said he has filed a federal lawsuit against the county. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was violating any law,” Kolbe said. “Or that the penalty for erecting a political sign expressing my beliefs as an American would cost me $200 a day.”
Ehrlich, a Republican, gamely visited the homeowner Thursday saying he was there to support first amendment rights. “It is about the Constitution and free speech and folks behind me and many, many other Marylanders are concerned about their rights these days,” Ehrlich said.
Politically, the squabble could not be in a more appealing location. Vote-rich Baltimore County is expected to be a massive battleground come November.
Baltimore County defended their rules Thursday, putting out a statment from County Attorney John Beverungen explaining that the county's zoning rules don't allow signs larger than eight square feet and vowing to fight the lawsuit.
The O’Malley camp didn’t have a lot to add. Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the Democratic governor said that “Baltimore county was just trying to enforce the law,” and added “we also respect the right of individuals to put signs on their property.”
With cooked up press events dominating all levels of politics, Ehrlich was quick to point out that his campaign did not “manufacture” this one. “This event just occurred,” he said. This is unscheduled politics.”