When the anti-choice billboards featuring President Obama went up at 58th & State, most media failed to mention that the images used to launch the public campaign were tacked to the north wall of the Exclusively Yours Auto Spa, headquarters for Che “Rhymefest” Smith’s 20th ward aldermanic run.
And no one asked Catherine Haskins, the owner of the auto spa, what she thought about them or how they complicated her life and Smith’s political mission.
“I’m pro-life,” says Haskins. “But not like this. Why do they have to attack black women? Why do they have to make black women out to be murderers? And have they thought about how they’re targeting black women and the president’s mother was white?”
The signs feature Barack Obama’s profile in black, white, green and red relief and the headline: “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted.”
This weekend, sometime in the evening, the ads themselves were attacked, although most of Smith’s volunteers – including Haskins herself – had not noticed the modifications until Sunday night. (The wall the signs are on faces a vacant lot and nowhere near the entrance to the business.)
At least one of the three billboards was covered by a white sheet with a handwritten message: “In 21 minutes this sign should be gone.” A second sheet curled on the ground, fallen off a second sign, but with a different message: “Abort racism.”
Haskins sighed and shook her head when she saw the sheets. She had no idea how they’d gotten up there. Among other things, the State Street block between 58th and 59th streets on which the Smith headquarters sits has been experiencing blackouts since the aldermanic race results narrowed to field to Smith and incumbent Willie Cochran.
“We call every time it happens, we make about 20 calls,” Haskins says. “We’re here until 8 at night sometimes so it matters to us that there’s no light and we can’t see a thing. It scares away volunteers, I know that.”
So it’s possible the sheets went up sometime after dark.
Then a Smith volunteer tells Haskins that, about two days ago, she saw a group “of about fifteen white ladies” strategizing about the signs. “They were talking about how they couldn’t damage the sign, that it was against the law,” the volunteer says. But all they did was talk, and she only overheard the conversation while she walked from her car to the office.
The billboards themselves also went up overnight, surprising Smith’s staff the next morning.
“I’ve called and called the billboard company,” Haskins says. “But Jeff (Lee of Lake Outdoor Advertising) has failed to return my calls. I have a contract with the billboard company but I do have a clause: no liquor, no cigarettes, no gentlemen’s clubs – nothing that is detrimental to the community. My attitude about it now is that if he won’t deal with it, I’ll just opt out of the contract and have the billboards come down, period."