Fire board campaign sign goes missing, and so does cell phone
• Woodell says he would
never pull up signs.
Who will be elected to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District (MPFPD) Board of Directors is not a question keeping most people awake at night, but some are taking it very, very seriously.
So seriously that campaign signs for Virginia Chang Kiraly seem to be vanishing. The Republican community activist is running for one of two seats open this year in the district that serves Atherton and East Palo Alto, nearby unincorporated areas, as well as Menlo Park.
As the Almanac first reported, Chuck Bernstein had posted her sign in his yard. But when the candidate asked him why she couldn't see the sign any longer, he discovered on Oct. 18 that it had been tossed into the bushes. Lying to the right of it? A sleek, black Samsung cell phone emblazoned with "Google."
As he studied the phone, he said, two incoming messages that mentioned "Woodell" scrolled by in the upper corner of the screen.
He wondered if that meant John Woodell, the husband of Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith, since the couple lives several houses down the street.
Mr. Woodell and Ms. Keith endorsed fellow Democrat Rob Silano in his bid for election to the Menlo Park fire board, and had his sign in their yard. Mr. Woodell is president of Menlo Democrats, described on its website (menlodems.org) as a Democratic Club of Southern San Mateo County.
"I have no way of knowing that it IS his phone," Mr. Bernstein told the Almanac, but called the circumstantial evidence interesting since whoever dropped the phone in the bushes on his property "couldn't be just walking by casually."
Worried he might be accused of stealing it, Mr. Bernstein turned the hot potato of a phone over to the police.
"I wish it didn't happen to me," Mr. Bernstein said. "Why did it have to be my house?"
It took five days, but Mr. Woodell eventually surfaced with a few terse comments in response to multiple inquiries from the Almanac about whether he'd lost his phone, and if it somehow may have landed in Mr. Bernstein's bushes.
In an email to the Almanac on Oct. 22, Mr. Woodell said: "That sign was in the bushes many hours before I lost my phone. I don't know exactly how or where some other person came into possession of my property, and identified the device as belonging to me, but I know when."
Disavowing all responsibility for pulling up Virginia Chang Kiraly's campaign sign, he wrote in an email, "I would never do such a thing."
He didn't clarify how he knew when the sign went missing versus when he'd lost his phone beyond saying that the sign "was seen (and possibly reported) missing 'long' before my phone was lost."
Asked why the delay before responding to the press, Mr. Woodell replied, "I did not respond, because this was a ridiculous accusation."
Spokesperson Nicole Acker said police determined it wasn't an enforceable crime since the sign was neither taken nor damaged — just relocated. Eventually investigators decided no crime had occurred and returned the phone to its owner, she said.
The case didn't appear in the daily crime log released by police on Oct. 19, according to Ms. Acker, because officers weren't sure how to classify it. She said it should have been included in the log as an informational case, and had advised that in the future, cases be listed in the log even if they weren't sure of the premise.
For her part, Ms. Chang Kiraly said this isn't the only case of a sign gone astray. "I've noticed that some of my signs have been missing on major streets, such as Valparaiso, near my home. Unfortunately, that's par for the course in elections."
In an email, she said she hopes that people understand and realize that signs are considered campaign literature and cost money. "People should also realize that trespassing on private property is illegal. Most important, since I am a strong believer in the First Amendment, I hope people will respect others' right to voice their opinion on issues and/or candidates. "
Signs of support
Mr. Woodell challenged claims that he doesn't also support Ms. Chang Kiraly. He said he tells people he supports both candidates. "When they ask me, I tell them to vote for Silano and Kiraly."
However, the candidate in question disagreed. "If they're not publicly endorsing me, and they're not, how can they say they're supporting me?" Ms. Chang Kiraly said, referring to Mr. Woodell and his wife, who both endorsed Mr. Silano instead. Calling the whole thing "odd," she said her supporters report fending off encouragement from the couple to back Mr. Silano.
"Sounds like she doesn't want my support, which is not the same. You should ask a more objective source," Mr. Woodell said.
While she'd prefer to see the focus return to issues facing the fire district, such as pension sustainability and school safety, Ms. Chang Kiraly would also like her campaign literature to stay put.
"I've only got a hundred signs!" she said.