There is an interesting legal challenge in Cambridge where an independent Senate candidate has alleged that Democratic city leaders have improperly used their authority to try to shutdown his campaign against Mass. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Specifically at issue is a bus featuring campaign slogans parked in the lot of an apartment building owned by Shiva Ayyadurai. Ayyadurai’s signs poke fun at Warren’s disputed claim that she is Native American. Ayyadurai whose family came from India has posted signs proclaiming “Only A REAL INDIAN Can Defeat The Fake Indian.” City officials ordered the signs removed, though the basis for the action is hardly self-evident. Ayyadurai has filed a free speech challenge in federal court.
Ayyadurai then received a notice from Cambridge building inspector Branden Vigneault that the signs lacked the appropriate “approvals and permits.” Vigneault threatened fines of $300 per day plus additional legal penalties if the signs remain in place.
The move seems legitimately suspicious. It is hard to believe that everyone who puts messages on their buses or vans is deemed a posted sign under the regulations. It is also problematic when it is a political message as opposed to a commercial advertisement. Finally, since this is on a moving vehicle as opposed to a building, it is hard to see why a “building inspector” is even involved.
Various experts have cast doubt on Warren’s claim, despite her claiming minority status on difficult law faculties. That does not mean that the allegations are fair and I frankly find President Trump’s attacks to be beyond the pale. However, it is a legitimate campaign issue that goes to questions of character and veracity.
I am less interested in the underlying controversy as I am the free speech issue. I find the actions taken against the campaign to be deeply troubling and it is a good thing that a federal judge will review the matter and underlying regulations.
Before his run, Ayyadurai was best known for his dubious claim to have been the inventor of email — a claim that he maintains on the campaign.