9 Reasons Why Barrett Recall Failed
Recall effort falls far short of number of signatures needed. Why?
Al Jansen, the south side fire fighter listed as the recall organizer, said he got “nowhere close” to the number of signatures needed to force a recall election.
“It became obvious that I overestimated the demand for changing the direction of the political leadership in Milwaukee,” Jansen wrote in a statement he presented to the City of Milwaukee Election Commission.
Under state law, Jansen’s group, “Save Our City, Milwaukeeans Can’t Wait,” needed to gain more than 50,000 signatures in a 60-day period to force a recall election. But Jansen told the news station he got only about 10,000 signatures — far short of the required total.
“Jansen told FOX6 News… he would shred the signatures he did receive, pledging not to ‘expose people to the ridicule’ of having supported his failed effort against Barrett.”
Why was the effort such a miserable failure? Let us count the ways.
1. No public face for the effort. Jansen initially avoided the media, giving the suggestion he was a figurehead for some other mysterious group. The entire recall effort seemed to seek no publicity and operate in the shadows. The fire fighters union seemed to be supporting it, but declined to endorse it or talk about it. If you’re not proud of the campaign, it’s pretty hard to convince others to join in.
2. No dark money appeared. The effort had all the earmarks of a campaign led quietly by right-wing forces from outside the city, the sort of effort Republican-leaning PR man Craig Peterson might have led. But he sat on his hands. And while the 2015 effort to force a referendum on the streetcar got support from a Koch Brothers-funded group, Americans for Prosperity (and failed anyway), this campaign got no such support.
4. Fire and police unions lack clout. While there’s little doubt the fire and police unions would like a mayor who is more sympathetic to their demands for more wages and benefits, the unions have little clout with political leaders in the city, as I’ve reported. That clout continues to decline as their members move to the suburbs and can no longer vote in city elections. City records show 30 percent of fire fighters and 27 percent of police officers now live outside the city.
5. The Streetcar issue isn’t very potent. Opposition to the streetcar was probably the biggest issue mentioned by Jansen. Polls show city residents are fairly divided on it. But there’s already been a much better organized effort to oppose this, and that referendum turned into a farcical failure.
6. The black community wasn’t engaged. The issue of lead laterals and finding the money to replace them, also listed as a reason for the recall, has the most impact in older homes, many owned or rented by the city’s African American and Hispanic residents. But would a replacement backed by the fire fighters be more concerned about this than Barrett? And who was working to get the signatures of black voters? The treasurer for the recall group was Darryl Farmer, who also goes by the name King Rick, is a member of the Black Panthers Party and was involved in a controversial incident involving threats against the North Side store, Stark Foods, as Fox 6 reported. King Rick’s clout with black voters may not be kingly.
7. CRG never got involved. When it comes to anti-liberal recall efforts the group that has had the most success is Citizens for Responsible Government, led by Chris Kliesmet and Orville Seymer. They were involved in the failed streetcar referendum and seemed to stay out of this campaign, which suggests they saw it as a loser.
8. The group had no candidate. If you hope to get people to support a recall, it might help to have a candidate waiting in the wings to oppose the incumbent. It’s not just that no viable candidate surfaced, but that there wasn’t even a short list of potential opponents.
9. Barrett simply isn’t vulnerable. Which is why there was no opponent waiting to run. The mayor just won reelection a year ago with 70 percent of the vote, and crushed the only two challengers his opponents could come up with: aldermen Joe Davis (now retired) and Bob Donovan. Jansen has now realized this, and in his statement on the recall failure said, “With the successes of downtown growth, there seems to be a lack of appetite for change.” Or maybe the voters like the kind of changes that are already happening.
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