A (designed) sign of support

The stories behind the Pittsfield mayoral candidates' lawn placards

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PITTSFIELD — Around this time of year, they're perhaps the most unavoidable pieces of graphic design in this city. Lining roads throughout Pittsfield, rectangular political campaign signs back candidates from front lawns. Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians can't help but notice them.

"Some places you barely see them, and here, it's a big deal," Melissa Mazzeo said.

Along with Scott Graves and Karen Kalinowsky, Mazzeo is one of three candidates challenging incumbent Mayor Linda Tyer in a preliminary election that will be held Tuesday. The vote will trim the field from four candidates to two before the Nov. 5 general election. In anticipation, these candidates' political signs have become increasingly prominent on thoroughfares such as Williams Street, their designs drawing inspiration from past campaigns' success, family, visibility and, yes, even a favorite color. While they don't have the funds that presidential candidates do to hire design teams and consultants, local election candidates diligently work with print shops, family members and others to create signs that subtly convey their values and aesthetic preferences.

"I do think lawn sign design is something that candidates put their own personal stamp on or think carefully about," Tyer said.

Individuality may be important, but candidates can't forget the basics, such as keeping their last names highly visible, according to Connolly Printing Owner Kevin M. Connolly. The Woburn printing and graphic design business made signs for both Graves and Mazzeo and works with candidates from around the country, their desired roles ranging from school committee posts to the presidency. For example, the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns were once clients.

"Without naming any names, the majority of the Democratic presidentials are coming to us," Connolly said by phone recently.

Since Connolly owns a union print shop, many of the business' signs ultimately belong to Democrats.

"We're known for this within the Democratic world. We also do Republicans, too," Connolly said. "I stay out of the politics. We're always neutral."

Conventional thinking might suggest that Democrats want a heavy dose of blue in their signs, but Connolly doesn't believe that color schemes are as important as people think.

"It's how you design the sign to give it the pop," he said. "Some people want to overdesign it, and that's how they ruin a sign."

Few would accuse the Pittsfield mayoral candidates of making their signs too intricate. All of them, however, put plenty of thought into their color choices, including the two candidates who ultimately had signs printed by Connolly. Mazzeo has been using the same green, white and red design since she first ran for City Council in 2009. Initially, Mazzeo wanted her sign to be just green and white, the colors of her beloved New York Jets. Her husband, Anthony, suggested adding red to represent their Italian heritage, Mazzeo recalled. Her then-11-year-old daughter, Mia, immediately sketched a logo that has had staying power.

"We were like, 'That's fantastic!' So, she's actually the one who created it," Mazzeo said.

The sign features a bulky green "M" anchoring Mazzeo's first and last names against a white backdrop. In red, the words "Vote" and "For Mayor" sandwich her name in smaller all-caps type.

"I think, one, it's about family," Mazzeo said of her sign. "I'm really proud of the fact that I'm a Mazzeo. They're a great family. They do a lot in the community. So, I wanted that to be part of it."

She also loves the fact that its colors convey her "very strong Italian side" and that her campaigns have stuck with her daughter's original design.

"They always say, 'Once you make your design, you shouldn't change it,'" Mazzeo said.

Mazzeo saved about 200 signs from her last election run, she said, placing "For Mayor" stickers on them. At first, she ordered about 500 new ones for this campaign.

"In the first day that we put them all out, we ran out. So we had to order another 500, and I just had them expand the 'For Mayor,'" she said of the copy's size. "The first [batch], it looked a little small, so I went back to my original look."

Using a union print shop has always been important to Mazzeo, she said. To keep some of her money local, she ordered banners, cards and other promotional materials from area businesses. The Graves campaign also sought to support Pittsfield shops, but couldn't find a better deal than Connolly Printing's, which supplied them with 350 signs, palm cards, mailing cards, T-shirts and lawn stakes.

"We're trying to do the best we can on, I'm quite certain, a slightly smaller budget than some of the other candidates are," said Paula Messana, Graves' partner and de facto campaign manager.

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Messana helmed the sign-making process, with Graves' son, Logan, pitching in with some logo design help.

"She just has that knack in her blood to know [how] to put what powerful color with another powerful color," said Graves, who owns The Rusty Anchor Marina & Pub Club.

During her research, Messana focused on color combinations.

"I chose the black, red and white because they are power colors," Messana said, noting that she found them in other city campaigns.

Graves' sign is mostly black with a white border. White lettering spells his name and "Mayor," the two sections separated by a red line and star. ("Graves" is the largest word.)

"I like the looks of it, number one," Messana said, "and being an underdog, I just felt as though we had to come out and be noticed, and one of the first ways we were noticed was by his signage."

At the bottom,"Focused on the Future" is spelled in white on a red stripe.

"That is key because the current future of our city, unfortunately, we feel is heading in the wrong direction," Messana said.

Reused from Tyer's last election run, the incumbent's sign also features a message across its bottom: "I'm With Linda."

"I felt like that was adding a personal touch," Tyer said of the slogan. "The person who has that lawn sign is a voter, and that person is an influencer. When they put that sign on their lawn, they're saying something to their neighbors and to the people that drive by."

Like the rest of the sign's lettering, the message is in white, matching the border. "Tyer" and "Mayor" are both in big, bold type, the latter set against a red background.

"I wanted to make sure that the lettering was large enough and white so that it could be seen and read clearly in the daytime and at night," Tyer said.

Most of the sign is a lighter shade of blue that Tyer referred to as "IBM blue," one she knew had a certain appeal to passersby. Before the 2015 mayoral election, Tyer worked with Massive Graphics to finalize the design and place an order of roughly 1,000 signs.

"We do a lot of the signs you see around," said Mike McInerney of the North Street shop.

Kalinowsky used Jones Trophy. At the Melville Street business, Marissa DiSimoni helped the retired Pittsfield police officer settle on a template that suited her.

"I was going to go with the red, white and blue, and then I said, 'You know what? That's not me. I'm purple; that's my favorite color,'" Kalinowsky said. "So, my T-shirts are white with purple writing, and my signs are purple with white writing."

Her name runs diagonally across the sign's surface with stars and "Elect" above them. Kalinowsky has a bit of buyer's remorse. She's worried her signs aren't popping enough.

"I should have gotten the white signs with the purple writing. Once I [saw] my signs out there, it was like, 'Yeah, I probably should have went the other way around,'" she said.

She's keeping things in perspective, though. She only printed 50 signs, and she's skeptical about their influence, anyway.

"I don't know if so many people voted for somebody just because of their sign," she said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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