The seventh district councilmember had been the target of a campaign that aimed to remove him from office, but after citing lack of financial support, a community organization who asked to recall Long Beach Councilmember James Johnson has suspended its efforts…for now.
On its website recalljohnson.com, The Citizens to Recall James Johnson continued to blast the seventh district councilmember at the same time they were also announcing that they were halting their campaign. Mike Kowal, a Long Beach resident who says he serves on the recall committee, said that key people had reneged on a pledge of money and resources.
“We [the recall committee] were promised by an ‘entity’ that they would totally fund the petition-gathering process if we would get the petition filed with the City Clerk’s Office,” Kowal said, explaining that his group had fulfilled their end of the agreement and filed the initial paperwork. After that, they were waiting for the money to come and for professionals to collect the required signatures for the recall petition, Kowal confirmed. According to the Long Beach City Clerk’s Office, they needed 5,241 signatures for the petition.
Kowal also said the committee declined to release the names of the people or organizations who had made promises to the recall committee.
Johnson, the subject of the committee’s attacks, questioned whether there was any significant support behind the recall campaign. He said that when the group held a press conference, they would not reveal the identities of the recall committee members or the source of their funding.
“It seems to me that for a group that’s supposedly concerned about transparency, it wasn’t very transparent who was part of this group,” Johnson said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Kowal acknowledged the irony. Even though the committee didn’t want to name names, Kowal said that he would love to release the names of the people who promised support.
“I want to do that right now because I think that’s only fair and honest,” Kowal said. “And if you’re going to tell people that [someone] isn’t transparent, is not telling the truth, who’s got a hidden agenda, I’m going to think that’s what we’re doing now, so we’re kind of acting like they have been.”
He described the days when the committee expected the financial help to come.
“We waited and waited, and the check was going to be in the mail. It never came to this day. And so we were stuck. We were stuck because we got that promise,” Kowal said. “We didn’t plan on the end game because somebody else was going to handle it for us and we’re done. You know, so the reason we’re suspending it at this point in time… hopefully these people that have promised are going to find a conscience and come forward and maybe do the right thing and go out there and get those signatures like they promised.”
The cost to hire the signature gatherers was estimated to be around $30,000, according to Kowal. According to the City Clerk’s Office, the Citizens to Recall James Johnson received $2,184 in monetary contributions and $49.76 in nonmonetary contributions as of Sept. 30. For that same time period, they spent $1,439.84. As of this week, the fund balance is approximately $400, according to the campaign’s treasurer Susan Lincoln. The next financial statement that will reflect the last quarter’s contributions and expenditures will be due by the end of January, according to the City Clerk’s Office.
Kowal said that there is still some time for those who promised significant financial backing to change their minds.
“We merely suspended the campaign at this point in time to allow them a little bit more time to reconsider… It’s still not over,” Kowal said, explaining that the signature-gathering process can be done in 30 days. He acknowledged that the committee did not attempt with its own volunteers to do the job of paid signature collectors.
“We never even tried to collect any signatures because this group was going to do that,” Kowal said, indicating that the official petition with signatures was not yet submitted to the City.
Johnson noted that the recall committee only submitted 27 signatures, and emphasized that there was no recall. Kowal said that those 27 signatures were signatures needed for the preliminary paperwork. The City Clerk’s Office confirmed that the committee only needed to submit 20 valid signatures to file the initial paperwork, but it did need 5,241 signatures on the actual petition.
Johnson acknowledged he has detractors, but he doesn’t think there are many. In Tuesday’s interview, Kowal had focused on the redistricting issue as he criticized Johnson. Kowal is a former candidate for the eighth-district council seat. A controversial redistricting plan that the Council approved earlier this year drew Kowal out of the eighth district. Kowal was ineligible to run for the council seat. Johnson had proposed the plan.
“Are there a couple of people who are unhappy? You know, perhaps there are,” Johnson said. But he added that, after walking the district, he’s talked to a large number of residents who are satisfied.
“I’m actually pretty pleased that the vast majority of people in the district are very happy and continue to be happy. I’m personally heartened by the outpouring of the support,” Johnson said.
The councilmember said he would listen to anyone with constructive ideas to move the city forward.
“What I’ve heard from the other side is basically just a lot of name-calling,” he said. “You know, and what I’m happy about is that we’re making real improvements.” Johnson described key decisions in which he supported pension reform, public safety, increased tree-trimming and sidewalk improvements. He also highlighted his policy that pushed for street maintenance. The City now will allocate 50 percent of the street repair budget towards street maintenance. In recent years, no money had been dedicated to street maintenance, the councilmember said, explaining that the City had only replaced streets at a high cost. According to Johnson, the plan would now save the City $30 million over 20 years.
Johnson stressed that he and his staff remain focused on their priorities.
“My number-one goal throughout this whole process was to not allow it to distract me and my staff from city business,” Johnson said. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”