By Nicholas Johnson

The first physical signs of political negativity have sprung up in Burien, less than two weeks before the Aug. 3 primary election.

Anonymous red signs urging Burienites to vote against four city council candidates because “Seattle politics are bad for Burien” appeared beside traditional campaign signs Thursday morning in the city’s downtown core along SW 152nd Street.

At the same time, many of Mayor Jimmy Matta’s campaign signs along the same street were defaced with stickers that read “corrupt.”

“Everyone should be in an uproar about this, even if they were not targeted,” Matta said, “because this is an assault on our democratic process.”

The anonymous signs, which feature an image of a closed fist along with the word “propaganda,” encourage voters to reject Matta, who is seeking re-election to his Position No. 3 seat, as well as Position No. 1 candidate Hugo Garcia, Position No. 5 candidate Sarah Moore and Position No. 7 incumbent Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx.

“I don’t see this as that big of a threat as much as I see it as a sign that people are not happy,” said Marx. “Signs like this don’t do any good for anyone. I don’t think they will dissuade voters. In fact, I think this will only serve to advance our progressive campaigns.”

Anonymous signs target 4 Burien City Council candidates 1

Mayor Jimmy Matta considers the anonymous red signs a threat, citing the use of lightning bolts that he said are reminiscent of Nazi, white supremacist imagery.

Matta, who was physically assaulted during the Olde Burien Block Party in 2018, said he does take the defacing of his signs as a threat. He said he also considers the anonymous red signs a threat, citing the use of lightning bolts that he said are reminiscent of Nazi, white supremacist imagery.

In a press release, Matta called for a federal investigation and announced that his campaign is offering a $2,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible.

Garcia said a few of his campaign signs had also been defaced with “corrupt” stickers, however supporters quickly removed them Thursday morning.

“This just shows that the negativity and hate that was so prevalent four years ago has not gone away and now we’re seeing it pop up again,” Garcia said.

Moore said she was handing out her campaign literature near the farmers market Thursday morning when she noticed the anonymous red signs and “corrupt” stickers on Matta’s signs.

“This isn’t Burien,” Moore said. “Burien has reason for disagreement but this is not who we are, and I would like to see the signs come down.”

Moore said the appearance of the anonymous red signs has motivated her to meet more Burien voters so she can “let them know who I really am.” However, she said it’s the “corrupt” stickers that disappoint her the most.

“I don’t have words strong enough to describe my feelings on that,” she said. “It’s just wrong.”

Other candidates seeking election to city council, save for Position No. 1 candidate Martin Barrett, Position No. 3 candidate Charles Schaefer and Position No. 7 candidate John White, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

“I don’t like it,” White said of the red signs. “And the main reason I don’t like it is that it has no source. But I don’t like the message, either. This makes Burien look ugly.”

For his part, Barrett said negative campaign tactics are good for no one and only serve to distract from meaningful debate on the issues.

“I want to say to everybody, ‘just stop it,’” Barrett said. “I like Hugo. He is a good guy. We may not agree on everything, but he is a friend who is willing to debate the issues.”

“I’m very disappointed to see the ‘vote against’ signs and especially the defacing of candidates’ signs,” Schaefer said. “I do not place a high priority on signs in general, but if candidates invest their hard-earned campaign funds on them, it is disrespectful to not only the candidate but their donors as well, many of whom are Burien voters. If someone has any evidence of corruption by any of the candidates, I encourage them to contact the public disclosure commission, the media, and/or law enforcement with their evidence. Vandalizing campaign signs is not the proper way to raise any issues someone might have with a candidate. If any of my supporters are involved in such activity, I would ask them, publicly, to stop.”

Councilmember Kevin Schilling said he believes the anonymous red signs violate the state’s sponsorship identification rules.

“They do not have a ‘paid for’ on them and so they are not following sign law,” Schilling said. “I think that right now any signs that aren’t following sign law should be removed.”

But according to Kim Bradford, deputy director of the state’s Public Disclosure Commission, signs such as the new anonymous red ones as well as traditional candidate campaign signs are considered yard signs, which are exempt from state laws that require sponsorship identification for other types of political advertising.

That means that the campaign signs that have popped up all around town in recent weeks are not required to include a “paid for by” or “sponsored by” statement, and neither are the anonymous red ones that appeared Thursday.

Candidate John White said he too would like to see the signs removed.

“Sarah Moore is a good person, Jimmy Matta is a good guy and Hugo Garcia is a good guy, too,” White said. “They don’t deserve this.”

Whoever is behind the signs would be better off participating openly in the political process, Marx said. Matta agreed, saying candidates and voters should be focused on debating the issues that matter to Burien residents.

“We can have disagreements but we need to remain cordial,” Matta said. “We should be focusing on our platforms and policy positions. We should be talking about the issues, not attacking each other.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify state law on sponsorship identification requirements for political advertising, including yard signs. It was also updated to include additional quotes from other city council candidates.