Campaign signs of two Atwater City Council candidates go missing

Lisa Rasmussen, running for Atwater City Council, signs like the one on the corner of Buhach and Bellevue Road have been vandalised.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY MARCI STENBERG Lisa Rasmussen, running for Atwater City Council, signs like the one on the corner of Buhach and Bellevue Road have been vandalised. Merced Sun-Star

In yet another sign that Atwater's rough and tumble politics are alive and well, two candidates for City Council have been the victims of apparent campaign vandalism.

City Council candidates Lesa Rasmussen and Jim Murphy both have recently lost campaign signs to vandals, they said. In Rasmussen's case, the damage has been a repeated and possibly targeted affair. Murphy, who lost some of his signs to what may have been vandalism, said the egging of his minivan could also have been campaign-related.

Those are just the most recent in a series of incidents that seem to have increasingly personalized politics in Atwater. In November, Rasmussen was the target of a flier that characterized her as self-serving and power hungry. More recently, Rasmussen and Murphy both received threatening letters telling them to get out of the race.

Rasmussen, who filed a police report Monday, said she has had to replace more than $1,350 in signs so far. She attributes the vandalism to opponents in the race. "I think it's opposition-related," she said. She didn't suggest who she thought was responsible.

"I think the reason that it happened is that it's sincerely a sign of a desperate act by someone," she said.

Mike Teater, a Rasmussen supporter who helped put up many of her signs, said he's sure it wasn't random vandalism. No other campaign signs had been targeted, he said. "Rivero has just as many signs as we do, and not one of them has been cut down," said Teater. "I'll tell you, it's not vandalism and it's not the wind," said Teater.

Last week, he said, four signs on various corners of town had been cut down. All had been attached to posts with plastic zip ties. The zip ties had obviously been cut, said Teater.

Assistant Atwater Police Chief Frank Pietro said that as far as he knows, Rasmussen's signs are the only ones that have been cut down. "At this point in time her signs are the only ones being damaged," he said.

It was clear the signs had been cut, which had aroused his suspicion, said Pietro. "Obviously, something is going on out there, but until I can confirm it with some suspect, I really can't be sure."

Since Murphy didn't report his vandalized signs, said Pietro, the department hadn't yet heard of them or the egging of Murphy's minivan.

But Andy Krotik, a former City Council member and a contributor to Jeff Rivero's campaign, said similar events happen all the time. People constantly vandalize his real estate signs, but it doesn't mean anyone is being targeted, he said. "I don't think anyone in the race is pulling that stuff on one another, unless they are doing it themselves," he said.

Another Rivero supporter, Fred Warchol, who's helping the campaign put up signs, contends the latest charges are just one more example of Rasmussen drawing attention to herself.

"Lesa Rasmussen is crying the victim again," he said. "She has lost three elections in a row, and I feel that this is just a sympathy move." Warchol said Rasmussen tried the same thing in 2008 and it didn't work then.

Warchol was one of the two people who donated to the political action committee that paid for an anti-Rasmussen flier characterizing her as power-hungry and out for personal gain.

Rasmussen strongly denied Warchol's implication that this vandalism was a campaign stunt.

As for the police investigation, Pietro said the department doesn't have any suspects. If apprehended, the culprit could face a felony charge and face prison time, said Pietro. There is a $1,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest.

None of the four other candidates has reported any such problems with their signs.

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or jlamb@mercedsun-star.com.