GOOSE CREEK — Along U.S. Highway 52, the main artery from lower Berkeley County to the county seat in Moncks Corner, hundreds of campaign signs, most of them red, white and blue, dot the grassy green median between the northbound and southbound lanes.
“It seems like every inch of the county is covered,” said Lavonda Gray of Goose Creek. “If you hold still long enough, they’ll put a sign on you.”
The March 2 deadline for signing up to run for Berkeley County sheriff had barely passed when signs started popping up throughout the county. Fourteen candidates are squaring off on Tuesday in the Republican primary.
“I’ll be glad when this campaign is over,” said Marian McIntyre of Goose Creek. “I hope the signs disappear quickly when it’s done.”
Some of the signs have disappeared even before election day, candidates said. Nearly as soon as they were erected, many were damaged or stolen. They chalk it up to both mischievous teenagers and supporters of rival candidates.
“I have had signs slashed, run over, thrown in ditches and stolen,” said retired Berkeley County sheriff’s Maj. Ricky Driggers, who has spent $5,151 on the posters from about $15,000 in donations and $2,000 in personal funds. “I have not filed a report but have started using infrared deer cameras. I have chalked it up as being part of politics.”
In addition to the $3,491 filing fee, campaign signs are the largest expense for most candidates. Many have spent thousands of dollars — often the lion’s share of their political war chests — on signs to promote their campaigns.
Bonneau Police Chief Frank Fuda, for instance, has collected $3,835 in donations and added $4,170 from his own bank account to his campaign, and has spent $2,312 on signs, he said.
Former Moncks Corner Chief Chad Caldwell said he has spent nearly half of his $22,531 in campaign funds on signs, about 20 percent of which have been vandalized or stolen. He has not reported the incidents.
“First, since I have no witnesses of the vandalism or someone removing my signs, it would be difficult to find the persons involved,” Caldwell said. “Second, recognizing resources are limited within the various police departments and I have no description of the person or persons doing this, I knew it would be a challenge to provide a responding officer with any details other than, ‘My sign was at this location and now it’s not.’ ”
Retired state Highway Patrol Trooper Marty Housand said he ran into an issue because he chose rectangular signs that are eight feet long and two feet deep.
“(Officials) told me they had to take them down because they were too big,” he said, but the signs still meet the 16-square-feet restriction, he said.
North Charleston Lt. Brian Adams came up with an Adopt a Yard Sign campaign, which asked supporters to donate $6, the average cost of a 12-by-18-inch sign.
“It was just a little promotion to get more signs in the yards and get more supporters out there,” he said. Adams said he only spent about $2,500 on signs, partly because he had some from his 2014 campaign for the post and also because “I decided not to put as many out there. Signs aren’t a vote. You can put 3,000 signs along the roadway but that doesn’t mean anybody’s going to vote for you.”
Other Republicans running for sheriff are: Charleston County Detective Robert Bittner, Omar Brown, retired State Law Enforcement Division agent Calvitt “Chab” Clarke, Charleston County sheriff’s Lt. Danny Isgett, Santee Cooper Law Enforcement Deputy Chief Duane Lewis, Charleston County Aviation Authority police officer Jerry Merrithew, Berkeley County Chief Deputy Rick Ollic, Berkeley County Lt. Will Rogers and St. Stephen Chief John Waters.
The candidates’ campaign donations and expenses are available at the state Ethics Commission website.
The one candidate who has filed to run as a Democrat, Berkeley County Sheriff’s patrol officer Anthony Smalls, has been largely absent from the campaign so far. Smalls, who has not responded to calls, emails and letters for information, has not put up any signs.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.