A video called “Recall Fever: Stop the Madness” was premiered recently at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Conference of Mayors as part of a “public awareness initiative” to convince folks that recalling their mayor — which citizens are attempting with greater frequency around the nation — is “destructive” and “costly.”
Destructive? Costly? Latent here is the argument that democracy is too expensive and, thus, we’ll have to settle for the incumbent, no matter what.
“The political climate is toxic,” U.S. Conference of Mayors chief executive Tom Cochran recently told the Wall Street Journal, “and this archaic rule is being put to sinister use.” Ah, archaism! But certainly recall is no more primitive than the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Sinister? Just how wicked was it for 69 percent of Ogden, Kan., voters to recall their mayor last year? Not only was the mayor accused of abusing his power, citizens discovered, after his election, that he had served more than a decade in Illinois and Ohio prisons on various charges.
Nor do 88 percent of Miami voters seem at all “sinister” for dumping their mayor last month after his self-dealing and cronyism became too much to bear.
Recalls begin, understandably, with a cry of “Enough!” But so much effort is required to force a recall election that mostly those endeavors prove less than enough.
Truth is, most recalls fail because citizens cannot gather enough voter signatures in the very short petition periods permitted.
A fine example of this can be found in Portland, Ore. Mayor Sam “Not the Beer” Adams survived multiple recall attempts in recent years, because his would-be ousters couldn’t quite gather the 32,000 signatures required in the 90 days allotted. You won’t find Sam in the conference’s spotlight, however. His successful recall followed his admission of a sexual relationship with a city intern.
Instead, the press club event focused on three mayors who fought back recalls:
- Akron, Ohio, voters defeated Mayor Don Plusquellic’s proposal to lease the city sewerage, which triggered the recall, but kept him with 76 percent of the vote. The effort was perhaps part frustration with a mayor in office for more than two decades in a city dominated by one party and lacking term limits.
- Mayor Ron Littlefield of Chattanooga, Tenn., retained office by having a judge rule in his favor over conflicting petition signature requirements.
- Pledge-breaking, tax-raising Jim Suttle, the mayor of Omaha, Neb., kept his job, too, but his anti-recall campaign remains under criminal investigation for paying homeless people to go through a training program that included a bus trip to the polls to vote on the recall.
Though the anti-recall event didn’t feature any mayor actually removed from office through recall, more sensible testimony can be found from the ranks of the ousted: Carmen Kontur-Gronquist of Arlington, Ore.
After online pictures of her posing scantily clad on a city fire truck created a firestorm, voters recalled her by a mere three-vote margin.
Maybe Cochran and his cabal of mayors should keep their shirts on ... so to speak.
Paul Jacob is president of Citizens in Charge, a national organization dedicated to protecting and expanding the initiative, referendum and recall rights of Americans without regard to politics or partisanship.