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The State of New York

Yes, DSNY Is Throwing Away Illegal Zeldin Lawn Signs: ‘Don’t Believe Every Conspiracy Theory You Read on Social Media’

Conspiracy theories about the practice have been amplified by NYC's Republican elected officials.

9:36 AM EDT on November 3, 2022

(Hell Gate)

On October 27, Twitter user @realJoelFisher posted a video showing a person who appears to be a City worker removing signs advertising 2020 election denialist Lee Zeldin's gubernatorial campaign from the public strip of roadway on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. In the video, which has since racked up more than 200,000 views, the person who filmed it claims that "the City is sending out people to take down Zeldin for governor signs." 

"Trying to rig the election, bro," they add. 

Since then, Zeldin supporters have circulated similar videos of people—from everyday residents of the city to Sanitation Department employees to even New York Assemblymember Peter Abbate, Jr.—removing Zeldin campaign signs in New York City, with the claim that doing so is against the law and an intentional act of political suppression. That many of these videos were taken by people who propagate far right conspiracy theories and disinformation doesn't seem to matter to groups like the Kings County GOP, which shared the video of Abbate taken by an Instagram user who goes by the name "ladie_patriot45."

Unsurprisingly, Republican elected officials in the city have eagerly joined the frenzy. "This seems to be election interference by a city official, on government time and in a government vehicle," wrote City Councilmember Vickie Paladino on Wednesday, retweeting a video posted by Jack Kaplan, the vice-chair of Community Board 12 in Brooklyn, that shows a Sanitation worker removing a Zeldin sign from a curb in an unidentified area. Paladino promised that her office "will look into this."

Also on Wednesday, Republican Councilmember Inna Vernikov alleged that her office was "flooded" with complaints from constituents "backed up with video and photographic evidence" of City employees removing political signs. "City agencies need to focus on their jobs, otherwise back to USSR if agencies are suppressing political speech," she wrote. 

The rationale behind this signage removal is far more mundane: The City of New York has a sweeping anti-signage law against anything being placed on public property—which includes roadways, medians, curbs, and even that little patch of grass between the sidewalk and the curb. (The law further states that it is illegal to put signs, stickers, or decals on private property without the owner's consent.) As these areas fall under DSNY's jurisdiction, so too does the removal of all signage, including political ads like yard signs.

"It is our job to remove them, just as it is for the 24 million pounds of trash and recycling we collect every day," DSNY Public Affairs Assistant Commissioner Joshua Goodman stated about the illegally placed Zeldin signs.

Goodman told us that DSNY has not seen any evidence of legally placed signs being removed from private property. "In the meantime," Goodman added, "Don’t believe every conspiracy theory you read on social media."

Assemblymember Abbate is one elected official who seems to be aware of the City's existing laws. In the video posted by ladie_patriot45 that was taken of him removing Zeldin signs, he says, "You aren't allowed to put signs on public property." Abbate says of Zeldin, "He’s breaking the law." (It could be argued that as the fine for illegal posting in NYC starts at $75, and goes up to $150 for every subsequent offense, Abbate is doing Zeldin's campaign a huge financial favor.)

"We've seen the videos. He was taking down illegal signs," a spokesperson for Abbate told Hell Gate. (According to the New York Post, the signs were placed on utility poles.) 

Hell Gate reached out to both Councilwoman Paladino and Councilwoman Vernikov's offices for clarification on their public comments, and whether they know that signage is not allowed on public property, and is not allowed to be placed on private property without the owner's consent. As of the time of publication, they have yet to respond.

As for what explains the proliferation of Zeldin campaign signs placed on public property, one recent video by a person whose social media account is rife with far right conspiracies may offer some clues. In that video, posted by Instagram user @king.jesus.aooknews, a man with a cart full of seemingly new Zeldin campaign signs is confronted in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. "People are being paid to take down Zeldin signs," the person behind the camera says. The very frazzled man being accosted states that he was tasked with putting up the signs for Zeldin, and simply removed some because someone informed him they were being illegally placed. 

Hell Gate has reached out to Zeldin's campaign to confirm if the man in the video was paid to put up the signs and what guidelines they have in place to ensure that canvassers are following City law. We will update the story if we hear back.

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