Residents leading a recall effort against Jersey City's mayor and a city councilman are stepping up their efforts to get petitions signed in anticipation of two February deadlines.
The group of residents calling themselves “Jersey City Recall” has, since September, been collecting the signatures needed to bring about the recall election of Mayor Jerramiah Healy and City Council President Peter Brennan.
The issue arose in response to the city’s raising of municipal taxes by more than 30 percent in the past year, and the corruption arrests of July 2009 that included former council members Mariano Vega and Phil Kenny.
John Lynch, one of the founders of the recall group, said last week he estimates the signatures are “well into the thousands.” He plans to get a more accurate count by the end of this week when he meets up with many of the 100 circulators who volunteered to collect signatures.
“I think what is happening here is sometimes beyond the control of Mayor Healy.” – Michael Kramer
They have until Feb. 20 to collect signatures to force a recall of Healy, and Feb. 28 for Brennan, both of whom were reelected in the May 2009 municipal election.
A recall enables voters to remove an elected official from office through a petition drive which, if successful, forces a new election. In this case, elections would be held in November of this year.
For each public official targeted, a separate petition must be signed by 25 percent of voters, either citywide or in a specific ward. The voters must have been registered in the last municipal general election, which was November 2009.
That means at least 30,000 signatures have to be submitted to the city clerk for Healy and for Brennan.
It’s their effort
Mayor Healy’s spokesperson Jennifer Morrill issued a statement about the recall effort:
“The recall committee is entitled to do what they are doing, however, the Mayor feels that he was elected by a majority and that this effort could only potentially move up by approximately 18 months an election that is already scheduled. Mayor Healy was recently reelected and wants to carry out the job that the people of Jersey City elected him to do.”
Morrill also said the mayor “has counsel” to advise him on any recall issues.
Is history on their side?
Will the recall of Healy and Brennan be successful? If recent history is any indication, it’s not likely. Last year, the recall of West New York Mayor Sal Vega failed after the town clerk found over 40 percent of the signatures collected were invalid, and after that, a Hudson County Superior Court judge dismissed the recall team’s challenge of the clerk’s ruling. And even a recall election in August led by Republicans to oust Ridgefield Park Mayor Anthony Suarez – arrested in July 2009 and recently acquitted as part of a federal probe into bribery and corruption in New Jersey – was defeated by a close margin.
Larkins said she’s “not sure who was behind the other recall attempts” but that his effort is different.
“The notion that people from across the city can unite and begin to stand up to a machine is, in itself, a huge step,” Larkins said. “It is unprecedented.”
Lynch said he has been meeting residents across the city while collecting signatures, and “educating” them on the problems with city government.
Two residents say: Wrong targets
Michael Kramer has lived in downtown Jersey City’s Hamilton Park area for the past 19 years. Kramer said he is aware of the recall but thinks that the problems in this city are not just due to Mayor Healy.
“I think what is happening here is sometimes beyond the control of Mayor Healy,” Kramer said. “The larger picture is this country is fighting two wars, and all the money being spent could be better used locally such as more hours for our libraries, and brand new snowplows for the city to replace the ones that break down.”
Aneesah Abdullah is a teacher at McNair Academic High School in downtown Jersey City. She thinks the recall group, which she didn’t hear of until this interview, is unfairly targeting the mayor.
“He is trying to do the best he can in this bad economy,” Abdullah said. “Maybe we should recall our governor, our senators, even our president.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.