Former President Donald Trump barely finished announcing his 2024 election campaign before he was at the center of a controversy in Connecticut, this time in the small Litchfield County town of Washington.
A property owner’s massive pro-Trump banner along Route 202 has drawn the ire of some residents and a warning from the town to take it down.
But Wayne Waldron, an ardent Trump supporter since 2015, said that he’s already taken plenty of heat for his political views, and plans to keep the banner in place.
“I’ve been down this road with the town many times before. They’ve been through five zoning enforcement officers,” Waldron said Tuesday.
“We’ve been contacted by lawyers who are ready to take this as a case for free speech,” said his wife, Bridget, co-owner of the property. “What are people scared of? They’ve having meltdowns.”
The town, however, contends that the problem isn’t the message — a photo of Trump with the words “My president, your president, America’s president” — but rather, the size. The banner is at least 10 feet high and more than 30 feet long.
“It’s draped over a porch roof and goes down to the ground. We can’t regulate content, but we regulate size,” First Selectman James Brinton said. “We have specific regulations for signage in a business district.”
Resident Robin Provey agrees, saying she was stunned to see such a massive sign in Washington.
“I drive right by it every day. It don’t care what it says, it’s too big,” she said. “He has freedom of speech. But we have zoning rules for a reason: Union Savings Bank can’t put up anything that large, the White Horse Tavern can’t, why can he?”
Provey was one of about 15 people who complained to the town after the sign went up early last Friday afternoon, according to Brixton. The town has sent a letter advising the Waldrons that it has to come down.
Washington prohibits temporary signs bigger than 30-by-45-inches, and requires businesses to cover or remove them after closing each day.
The Waldrons got the massive banner two years ago from David LaManna and Mark Dorais of Unified American Patriots, a conservative group that advocates for law enforcement. Wayne Waldron said he put it up Friday because of Trump’s campaign news a few days earlier.
“It’s a celebration for his announcement,” he said. “I’ve supported him since he came down the escalator in 2015. I know he’s not perfect, but he means a lot for our country.”
The Waldrons have displayed Trump messages on their building along Route 202 for years, and say they’ve paid a steep price through lost income along with anonymous retaliation.
“I do excavating, landscaping, stonework masonry and renovations,” Wayne Waldron said. “I put my head in a noose when I put up signs. I used to do all the work for people around here, but they’re not happy with me supporting Trump.”
He estimates he’s lost $2 million in sales since 2015.
“I haven’t had work in four years. My customers around Washington have all gone goodbye on me,” he said.
“It’s devastating, they’ve blackballed our business. He can’t get a job in five towns around us,” Bridget Waldron said. “We’ve had people shouting at us, throwing garbage all over at night. Someone left a bag of dead animal fetuses out there. And it’s all anonymous.”
Five Things You Need To Know
We’re providing the latest coronavirus coverage in Connecticut each weekday morning.
Wayne Waldron said he figured there would be complaints when the new banner went up at their property, which had been a general store and later an antiques shop before the he and his wife bought it years ago. He said they are slowly renovating it.
Some passing motorists yell obscenities or flip middle fingers, he said, but response to the new banner has been mostly positive.
“There are people who thank me for it, I’d say it’s been about 80-20,” he said. “Some of these people are pulling in with Porsches with New York plates to say thank you.”
Brinton said the town has to enforce its rules, and said this would be a different matter if the sign was in a residential zone.
“Then if it’s not in a town or state right of way and not a danger to traffic, you have no authority over it,” he said. “I’ve seen towns where people have feuds and put up signs about each other — that becomes a civil action. But in the business district, we have regulations.”
Bridget Waldron said the banner is serving as a tarp, protecting a broken-down car that’s waiting for a mechanic. But some residents see it as unattractive and a distraction to drivers.
“It’s like a billboard. Are we going to put billboards in Washington?” Provey asked. “This just isn’t the appropriate place for something of that size.”