DURHAM — Signs that branded mayoral challenger Thomas Stith III "a right-wing Republican" were vandalized and stolen over the weekend.
The local Democratic Party put out the signs Saturday that read: "Stith Right-Wing Republican. Don't be fooled!"
Democrats have stepped up their campaigning for Mayor Bill Bell in the run-up to today's election, which is ostensibly a nonpartisan race.
By Sunday, most of the 250 signs were gone or vandalized, said Kevin Farmer, president of the local party. He offered a $250 reward Monday to anyone who offered information leading to an arrest and conviction.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans four to one in Durham, making Stith's ties to the GOP a potential liability.
Stith said he knew nothing about the signs being taken until he noticed some were missing as he drove to church Sunday.
He noted that many of his own campaign signs have been stolen through the course of the campaign, though he wouldn't guess how many.
"It's just unfortunate, and it's petty," Stith said. "But it happens in the course of the campaign, in every campaign."
Bell said he did not approve the Democratic Party's signs.
Stith took issue with the injection of partisanship into the campaign. The local Democrats also have handed out a flier featuring a picture of President Bush with the caption, "Would you elect George W. Bush mayor of Durham?"
Stith does have strong ties to the Republican Party. GOP heavyweights such as former state legislator Art Pope are among his campaign contributors, and until recently he worked for the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank founded by the Pope family.
But he said that should be irrelevant.
"I think the tactics they're using are diverting from the real issues that are impacting the community," Stith said, reiterating his message of getting tough on crime and making city operations more efficient.
"[Bell's] resorting to what he can run on, which is his [party] registration," Stith said. "He can't afford to run on his record."
Bell said he has focused on issues and accuses Stith of not offering real solutions, only complaints.
But Bell said making clear his loyalty to the Democratic party is no accident. His campaign mailers proclaim him a "Proud Democrat."
"It has always been part of my strategy to let people know for sure that I was a Democrat," he said.
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