It's big, and it has the words Obama and 2012 on it, but what the "Defeat Obama in 2012" sign isn't is an election sign, according to Sarasota, Florida's city attorney.
As noted in the public email records for the City of Sarasota, City Attorney Robert M. Fournier has decided that the "Defeat Obama in 2012" sign located at 50 N. Tamiami Trail can stay because it is not considered an election sign meaning that it does not endorse a person running for office nor does it support a specific political party. The sign was installed by Bird Key resident and investor Michael Fox.
Sarasota Patch has reached out to the city commissioners to ask for comment but has not yet received a response.
However, Caren Lobo, a Democratic fundraiser and wife of an Obama administration official, wrote to Mayor Suzanne Atwell and the city commissioners expressing concern for the negative impact this sign could have on the City of Sarasota. As noted in the public records, Lobo says, in part, “The sign posting is the beginning of a national movement and Sarasota will be the vanguard. And it seems to a lay person like myself as if the logic to get to a legal approval of the sign has tied itself in knots. How unfortunate to put the city in a position to be used like this.”
Lobo is no stranger to the political scene. She and her husband Dick Lobo hosted First Lady Michelle Obama in January at their Sarasota home for a fundraiser for President Barack Obama's campaign.
Dick Lobo is the director of the International Broadcasting Bureau, which oversees the U.S. Government-produced news site Voice of America. Dick Lobo was recommended for the position by Obama and was confirmed by the Senate.
Government media watchers are speculating if Dick Lobo could be appointed by Obama to fill a vacancy in the Broadcasting Board of Govenors, following the January fundraiser.
Fournier responded to Lobo’s comment saying he was not going to change his legal stance on these types of signs.
"The ordinance in question, as a restriction on speech protected by the First Amendment, must be narrowly construed, hence the sign in question should be allowed," Fournier wrote. "Someone who disagrees with the message is free to place a 'Beat Romney 2012' sign or the equivalent on their property.”
Here's the city's zoning code on election signs:
Political campaign signs announcing candidates seeking public political office and other data pertinent thereto shall be permitted up to a total area of sixteen (16) square feet for each premises in a residential zone and thirty-two (32) square feet in a commercial or industrial zone. These signs shall be confined within private property. These signs may be displayed ninety (90) days prior to and twenty-one (21) days after the election for which intended. In cases where a final election follows within seventy-five (75) days of a primary election, those candidates who won in the primary election may continue to display their signs during the interim period and up to twenty-one (21) days after the final election.
Lobo contended in the e-mail that “…the anger over the city allowing this sign is heating up and will get much, much worse. The City attorney has chosen an untenable position that will be challenged. The light will be shined on the decision and the logic with which the decision was made," Lobo wrote.
"The media will focus on the city attorney who will look personally foolish and timid in the face of Republican partisan pressure," she wrote. "If he hopes to avoid a very public (think viral) story that focuses on him in particular, he may want to re-think his approval.”
Fournier actually pointed out in his response to Lobo that he voted for Obama in 2008 to discount a perceived Republican bias.
Bob Willis, spokesperson for Michael Fox, said that it is Fox’s intention that this campaign be a grassroots effort.
"People need to make their own signs, put them up in the own yards, and exercise their right to free speech,” Willis said.
Willis clarified that Fox is providing funding for 10,000 signs to be placed in strategic locations throughout the country, in places that are highly visible, similar to the sign placement on Tamiami Trail but Fox is not providing funding for individual signs.
Willis also noted that Fox is not associated with any clothing retailer as has been erroneously reported in several news stories. Willis stated that Fox is a local investor with close ties to the Koch Brothers.
Charles and David Koch, who own a conglomeration of businesses and investments through Koch Industries, have reportedly received pledges reaching a combined $100 million at a California conference to defeat Obama, according to The Huffington Post:
"A source who was in the room when the pledges were made told The Huffington Post that, specifically, Charles Koch pledged $40 million and David pledged $20 million.
The semi-annual, invitation-only meeting attracts wealthy donors, Republican politicians and conservative activists. Last year, hundreds of activists gathered outside the walled-off resort to protest the meeting. This year, however, the conference went off quietly."
Visitors to the Unconditional Surrender statue in Sarasota Tueday evening said they were dismayed to see a negative sign in such a beautiful area.
One couple from New Jersey, who did not want to be identified, suggested removing the sign and letting "people think for themselves instead of thinking we are stupid and need to be led down the garden path."
The group declined to comment on whether they are voting Republican or Democratic or whether they would put any type of sign in their own yards.
This story has been updated to include the city's zoning code on election signs.