A bird feeder dangles from one of Alex Duensing's campaign signs and, by the August primary, Mexican sunflowers could bloom out of another.
When it comes to lawn ornamentation, almost anything goes in Kenwood and Disston Heights. But for neighborhoods that have become a draw for artists and craftsmen, their local political signage is oddly conventional. Or it was before Duensing, 39, announced his candidacy for the District 8 City Council seat and began making yard signs out of other people's trash.
In a patch of grass on 49th Street N, a discarded wooden headboard has been stuck in the ground and painted with flamingos and cattails and the candidate's name. Not far away, a planter with a "Vote Duensing" sign sticking out of a red flower pot sits at a street corner, as though it's waiting for the bus.
But the candidate's greatest find is clearly the child-size plastic castle he discovered in an alley and wheeled home in his gardening wagon. He spray painted it bright yellow and, where a door should be, affixed a wooden plank urging voters to support his campaign.
"I think they make people happy," he said on a recent afternoon while painting a bird face onto a tree trunk.
The bird would be part of another soon-to-be displayed sign, though Duensing wasn't entirely sure how yet. But he'd noticed the wood lying around and thought it looked like a bird and might charm passers-by. At least he hoped it would.
"I'm like Mr. Rogers runs for City Council," he said of his campaign style. "I want people to know they're special and their opinions count."
Hoping to convey a similar message about people's untapped strength, Duensing climbed on his roof late last year and fought off the Mayan apocalypse on live television. Wearing a red tunic and twirling two poles, he told the cameras he was trying to save the world. Later, he explained that it was performance art. He has an MFA from Columbia University.
Most people applauded his creativity, he said. Others didn't get it.
In conversation, it's not immediately clear if Duensing wants to be on the City Council or if he's trying to inject a bit of whimsy into representative democracy. But he's serious about getting people's attention and there are concrete issues — the fate of the city's pier, bike lanes, and community policing — on which he has definite opinions.
"I just want to be the local helper guy," he said. "I intend to win."
Duensing filed to run in January, but the field has widened since he entered the race, and now includes four other candidates. One of them — Amy Foster — currently has signs on display (hers are purple with a green swoosh) and another candidate, Steve Galvin, has ordered signs of the red, white and blue variety. "They're a necessary evil but I'm not a big fan of them," Foster said of her traditional corrugated plastic signs. "They're good for name recognition."
On this Duensing would seem to agree. He's ordering a few of those, too.
No one has stuck in the ground anything quite like his signs, of which there are about a dozen. But he has plans for many more, including dioramas and carnival cut-outs for people to put their faces in.
Local artists have made some of the signs, and for lettering, the candidate has turned to a business called Silly Signz. But others he's made himself, working mainly out of his neighbor's back yard.
"I really do hope in the future more politicians do this," he said. "It shows consideration to the people passing by. Yes, you have the right to put signs out there, but people have to see them."
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.