Sweetwater elections are two months away, but the race is already heating up as one candidate claims that campaign signs and door-hangers are being vandalized.
Deborah Centeno, who is competing against incumbent Commissioner Isolina Maroño for the Group 4 seat, said voters have been calling her campaign office and saying that the vandalism is occurring shortly after the door-hangers are left and signs placed.
“We have been campaigning — visiting homes and leaving a door-hanger — but once we leave, we have been informed that it is being removed or has disappeared,” Centeno said in a phone interview.
Maroño is the mother of City Manager Manny Maroño. She was appointed to fill a vacant seat left by the late Vice Mayor Ariel J. Abelairas last year.
Four seats are up for grabs, including Isolina’s: Commissioner Jose Diaz, who fills the Group 3 seat; Commissioner Jose Bergouignan, who fills the Group 2 seat; and Commissioner Orlando Lopez, who sits on the Group 1 seat. Only Isolina has an opponent, for now. Elections are being held May 14. The qualifying period is March 20 and ends at 5 p.m., March 29.
Centeno said this is nothing new and that she experienced the same incident when she ran for office in 2010.
“In our last campaign, we observed that our campaign signs were being removed, but no one told us about it,” she said. “No one was telling us — now people are calling our campaign office and telling us about it.”
However, Centeno said that those who call to inform her of the vandalism don’t want to identify the perpetrators.
“When we ask, ‘Who is it?’ they tell us, ‘I don’t want problems,’ ” she said.
But her opponent, Isolina Maroño, said she has lived in the city for over 40 years and has never heard of such a case.
“We have no time for that,” she said in a phone interview. “We are very respectful in this community. We enjoy drinking coffee and eating pastelitos (Cuban pastries) together during campaigns. She has the right to report it to our police. ”
Centeno said she hasn’t filed a complaint to police because she wants proper evidence.
“I can’t accuse anyone until we have evidence,” she said.
Maroño said that no one is removing the signs and that it is the owners of the property.
“Logic tells you the owner of the property removes it,” Maroño said.
Centeno, however, said that property owners have given her the thumbs-up to place the door-hangers.
Sweetwater spokeswoman Michelle Hammontree-Garcia said that before reporting vandalism to the public, Centeno should report it to the police.
“To report that campaign signs are being vandalized to the media and not to the police department is not prudent,” she wrote in an email. “City officials have taken many measures to clean up and beautify Sweetwater, and if vandalism is reported it will be investigated and resolved.”
She also added that Centeno hasn’t paid a required $50 bond that allows those who are campaigning to place signs and door-hangers. She also added that the city’s code-enforcement department has confirmed that they haven’t seen any of Centeno’s signs or removed them.
Centeno said she would pay the $50 bond, but that she was never informed of the fee. However, she wants the removal of her campaign signs to come to an end.
“With experience, we know these things happen in Sweetwater and we want to stop it before it escalates, because it is illegal,” Centeno said.
Centeno added that those who help in finding those responsible for vandalizing the signs would get a reward. The reward will come from individuals who support her, she said, but not from her campaign.