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Willard Beach dog ban activist accuses South Portland opposition of sign vandalism

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Willard Beach dog ban activist accuses South Portland opposition of sign vandalism

SOUTH PORTLAND — The group spearheading an effort to ban dogs from Willard Beach is accusing dog owners of vandalizing campaign signs.

A group representing dog owners denied the charge.

The referendum facing voters in less than three weeks would ban dogs from April 15 to Oct. 15 and only allow them on Willard Beach between Oct. 16 and April 14 if they are leashed. The existing law allows dogs to run off leash and under voice control on the beach from 6 a.m to 9 p.m. October through April, and from 7-9 a.m. and 7-9 p.m. May through September.

Within the last two weeks, political action committees on both sides have been putting up campaign signs. Opponents of the dog ban have signs depicting a cute and furry golden retriever; proponents of the ban have signs with large packs of dogs and dogs defecating in the sand, juxtaposed by a small child playing in the stand. 

While both groups now have signs on the ground, only Save Willard Beach, which is pushing the dog ban, has reported any problems.

Save Willard Beach leader Gary Crosby, who is also a candidate for City Council, said his group put up about 200 signs on Oct. 11 and within 24 hours more than a dozen had been vandalized, mostly near schools. 

Police Detective Reed Barker said Crosby filed a police report on Monday, Oct. 12, alleging criminal mischief. There are no suspects, Barker said. 

Crosby, however, said he suspects that the group opposing the referendum is behind the destruction of 15 percent of his signs, which were torn down, destroyed or thrown in the bushes. 

"For as much time as they spend talking about it, I would like to believe that my opposition places some authentic value on coexistence, cooperation, freedom of speech, and tolerance," Crosby said in a letter. "I call upon all citizens – both supporters and opponents – to stand in public for a respectful and honest election process."

Crosby dismissed the notion that natural elements may have caused the signs to be torn off their stakes. 

"They're folded in half," Crosby said. "(The weather) wasn't that bad. I would love for it to have been the wind."

Tom Ayres, spokesman for Share Willard Beach, said he was "disgusted" by Crosby's allegation that the South Portland Dog Owners Group was somehow responsible for the missing or damaged signs.

"We have conducted a really respectful and above-the-board campaign," said Ayres. He also said he was glad to hear Crosby had filed a complaint with police. 

Ayres said Share Willard Beach has a core group of 30 to 40 volunteers who have been distributing about 4,000 hand-cards while canvassing neighborhoods all over the city and speaking with residents. 

"It goes without saying that we would discourage anyone from vandalizing the opposition's signs or responding to their message in anything other than a respectful and honest fashion," he said. "That's the campaign we've tried to run from the beginning and that's the campaign we will run from now to Election Day." 

Crosby said he was "furious" about the vandalism of signs that cost the group more than $800 to produce, and had a message for whoever who is responsible.

"They're spineless bastards," he said. "If it's kids, their parents should have taught them better. If they're adults, they should know better. It's a mockery of the democratic system."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net