Campaign sign incident leads to elections complaint

Captain Mac’s Bait & Tackle shop contacted the Delaware Elections Commission early this week, reporting “belligerent, threatening” behavior from a political supporter last week, but others say the incident was blown out of proportion.

Bruce McGuigan, owner of Captain Mac’s on Route 54, said a Fenwick Island man asked McGuigan’s employee for permission to display a Gerald Hocker campaign sign in front of the business. Hocker is the Republican candidate for the state’s 20th Senate District and the current 38th District state representative.

McGuigan was not present at the time, but his employee, Chris, refused to display the sign.

“Chris said, ‘I think he has enough signs,’” and refused, said McGuigan. “[The man] became very irate and very loud. He started to make threats.”

According to McGuigan’s written report, “The man became belligerent, threatened my employee, and threatened to boycott the business and solicit others to boycott the business so that I would have to close down due to lack of business, if I didn’t put up a Gerald Hocker sign.”

McGuigan said he was already displaying signs for candidates Rick Eakles (20th Senate District Democratic candidate) and Ron Gray (38th Representative District Republican candidate).

“I normally don’t get wrapped up in all these politics, but they’re both friends, so I have both signs,” McGuigan said. “I’m not claiming any political party. It’s just a matter of friendship with Ron and Rick.”

McGuigan said the employee suggested the man return on Saturday to speak directly to the owner, but McGuigan said he never returned. The man also displayed Ron Gray campaign signs on his vehicle.

“It really irks me, because that’s the whole idea of this country: you can vote for whomever you want. This strong-armed mentality — it’s strong-armed at best,” said McGuigan. “Chris was absolutely perplexed. … He said, ‘I didn’t want to offend him.’”

McGuigan said he does not blame Hocker or Gray for the incident.

“Is it a personal friend of Gerald that was doing it, or part of his campaign? — I don’t know,” said McGuigan. “Do I think that Gerald Hocker put him up to this? Absolutely not. I know Ron Gray is one of the nicest, if not the nicest, person I ever met. So I know it’s not coming from the top.”

However, the individual’s behavior was enough that McGuigan filed an official report with Delaware State Police and contacted Delaware Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove.

Delaware State Police Public Information Officer Master Cpl. Gary Fournier, said the DSP report on the incident is a basic one, describing a “disorderly subject” and “civil dispute.” No arrests were made.

The complaint to Manlove described Captain Mac’s side of the story and simply concluded, “I would appreciate anything you can do to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.”

On Monday, Oct. 22, Manlove said she was waiting to see the police report on the incident, but she said she had forwarded the letter to the Delaware Attorney General.

“It sounds like harassment. That’s why I’m forwarding it to my AG,” said Manlove. “This is the first complaint that I’ve ever received on this, so it’s not like I have a history on it.”

“Don’t come into my place of business and start throwing out threats,” said McGuigan. “The whole thing is just unfortunate. It’s just silly at this local level of politics.”

Contacted about the incident, Hocker said, “I know absolutely nothing about it. Believe me — I don’t want my signs anywhere where people don’t want them up. That’s not me. Nobody on my team was asked to put up a sign there.”

Hocker said the supporter in question called Monday to tell Hocker, “All I did was ask him if I could put up one of your signs,” and when denied approval said, “Well, I’m going to transfer, and maybe I shouldn’t shop here anymore. … I buy all my bait and tackle here, and Gerald has done for a lot for the community, and maybe I shouldn’t shop here anymore.”

Hocker said the 38th District Republican volunteer only asked McGuigan’s employee because there were so many signs already there. Hocker told the Coastal Point, “I guess this Chris told the owner, and it got completely blown out of proportion. I ask people before I put signs up,” he emphasized, noting that some opponents’ have placed ads on Hocker’s own property without permission. “I didn’t get mad, and I didn’t touch them. I asked him to come get ’em. It works both ways.”

Hocker expressed appreciation to those who display his campaign signs, estimating that 1,500 are on the streets.