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Burlingame’s sign-stealing epidemic

By Aaron Kinney
Thursday, October 11th, 2007 at 6:58 pm in Aaron Kinney, Burlingame.

[Updated Tuesday, Oct. 16, at 10:30 a.m. See below.]

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The Times ran an article Wednesday reporting that veteran Bay Area traffic announcer Joe McConnell (pictured to the right) was caught stealing one of Burlingame City Council candidate Gene Condon’s campaign signs Monday by Condon himself.

McConnell, whose reports for for Metro Networks are broadcast on such stations as KGO-AM and KQED-FM, was questioned by Burlingame police Monday night after Condon, one of five candidates in the November race, saw him remove a sign from a property on California Drive near Rosedale Avenue, followed him home and then called in the fuzz.

The story was noteworthy because McConnell is the husband of Geraldine O’Connor, former spokeswoman for Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Mateo, and co-chair of the campaign for one of Condon’s opponents, Planning Commissioner Jerry Deal.

The story was weird because, in a telephone conversation with the Times, McConnell didn’t seem the least bit a) contrite for having possibly committed the crime of theft or b) embarassed for having caused Deal a public relations headache.

But due to the restrictions of time and space, we weren’t able to share all the juicy details from our conversations with Condon, Deal and McConnell. Well, that’s why we have the Insider. But before we get to that, make sure you’re sitting down, because the sign-stealing scandal has widened!

Peter Comaroto, a member of Burlingame’s Parks and Recreation Commission and the third challenger in the City Council race, called Wednesday to let us know that he had filed a police report after having 40 or so signs taken from denuded lawns over the past two weeks.

“I’m not taking this lightly,” Comaroto told us. “It’s interfering with my communication with the voters (and) it’s interfering with the political process.”

Comaroto insisted that he was not piling on the controversy. He’s just ticked off that “almost 15 percent of my signage has been taken down.”

Meanwhile, the District Attorney is reviewing the case against McConnell, which was forwarded without a recommendation by Burlingame police. A spokesman for the District Attorney said McConnell’s act could be considered misdemeanor theft, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Condon said he has spoken with Deal, a member of the Burlingame Planning Commission, and doesn’t hold him responsible for McConnell’s actions. But he’s irked by McConnell’s cavalier attitude.

“If he has no regrets, he has no regrets,” Condon said. “I was looking for an apology, which would have been fine, but I guess not.”

“You got a guy with a problem,” he added. “What can I tell you?”

A recap of what happened: Condon noticed that a number of his signs had gone missing in recent days, particularly along the stretch of California Drive south of Broadway between El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks.

A friend of Condon’s who lives on Highway Road caught someone taking a sign from his lawn on videotape on Sunday. The next day, Condon decided to patrol the neighborhood and, much to his amazement, he quickly came across a man removing one of his signs at about 8 p.m.

Condon said he trailed the man, who was walking a white terrier, back to his home a couple blocks away and called the cops. He only learned the sign filcher’s identity when neighbors filled him in on Tuesday.

But McConnell’s response to the incident was far and away the highlight of the Insider’s week. Here are the greatest hits from our phone conversation, much of which did not find its way into Wednesday’s article:

– McConnell noted that he disposed of the sign by throwing it to the ground a short distance from where he took it: “Sign moving is probably the only thing that I could be accused of.”

– He countered Condon’s allegations by claiming that Condon’s campaign has been planting signs on residents’ lawns without asking and blocking Deal’s signs with his own, charges that Condon denies.

“This one particular sign has been driving me crazy,” McConnell said. “It just seemed to be positioned on California Drive to block the Jerry Deal sign on the same property.”

– When told that Condon was disappointed by his behavior, given his stature as a past board member of the California First Amendment Coalition, McConnell said Condon “needs to grow up.”

“Perhaps my removing his sign is a matter of free speech — I’m making a statement,” McConnell said. “I suspect that he probably has his own people out there doing the same thing.”

– He said Condon’s signs were an eyesore: “I just feel they’re a blight on the neighborhood, just as he would be a blight on the City Council, as far as I’m concerned.”

– He took exception to the fact that Condon trailed him back to his residence on Eastmoor Road: “They followed me back home, sort of like the Stasi of the neighborhood or something.”

Condon said he and his friend identified McConnell as the man in Sunday’s videotape, but Burlingame police Commander Mike Matteucci said officers at the scene were unable to draw that conclusion after viewing the tape.

Regardless, Condon said he suspects McConnell took down far more than just one sign. McConnell maintains his shenanigans were an isolated event.

Comaroto, Condon and Deal are vying to unseat Councilman Russ Cohen and Councilwoman Terry Nagel. Councilwoman Ann Keighran and Vice Mayor Rosalie O’Mahony are honorary co-chairs of Deal’s campaign.

UPDATE: By the end of last week, McConnell came around to a new perspective.

“I absolutely regret it — it was a foolish, juvenile thing that I did,” said McConnell, adding that he’s called Condon to apologize.

McConnell said his comments in the wake of the incident, which were made in response to a press release that was sent out by Condon campaign, were rash and inappropriate.

“He’s my neighbor,” McConnell said. “And long after the election we’ll still be neighbors.”

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One Response to “Burlingame’s sign-stealing epidemic”

  1. Mike Deal Says:

    Burlingame is not for Joe McConnell and his wife Geraldine. These far left wing nut jobs are better off in Berkeley. As most of their neighbors know, they think they are better than the rest of us.

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