Activist Frederick Butler did Wednesday as he previously said he would and filed papers to start the process of recalling Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D). Butler has also indicated he will pursue recalls against D.C. Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).
• Recalls are difficult. So difficult, in fact, that no recall effort against anyone ranking higher than advisory neighborhood commission has ever succeeded. Butler will have 180 days to collect signatures of more than 45,000 registered voters, including signatures from at least 10 percent of voters in five of the eight wards. To put this into perspective, a citywide candidate only needs to collect 3,000 signatures for direct access to the general-election ballot.
• Every politician has enemies. And it’s easy to say that you intend to recall an official; you go down to the Board of Elections and Ethics and file some paperwork. Every D.C. mayor since recall was instituted and numerous D.C. Council members have been subject to recall efforts. None have succeeded. No doubt Gray and Brown are unpopular right now, but unpopularity isn’t enough to sweep a duly elected incumbent from office. Even if there were developments down the road — federal charges, for instance — that might improve a recall’s chances, note that the 180-day clock on Butler’s effort would not reset; the process would likely have to start from scratch.
• Butler’s motives are questionable. Butler first came to public attention when he started appearing regularly at the side of Sinclair Skinner, the political activist who was implicated in a contracting scandal during Adrian Fenty’s mayoral administration. Butler, who attended Skinner’s news appearances dressed in the crimson and cream of the Kappa Alpha Phi fraternity, does not shy away from the association. But it opens him to charges that he’s simply prosecuting a political vendetta on behalf of Skinner. ”This is not a vendetta,” Butler told me last week. “I wouldn’t be sitting here working for free if this was a vendetta.” He said Skinner is not organizing the recalls, but “if I need some advice, he’ll lend me a hand.”
• There is no reason to think this recall is especially well funded or well organized. Butler told me he has a list of 240 supporters, but last week he was unwilling to give me a single name of someone willing to circulate petitions or write a check to pay someone to circulate petitions. “I have people behind me that are willing” is all that he would say. This much is clear: Butler didn’t have the help of a writer in drafting his recall statement, which cited as a reason for the recall the “multiple times that the National and social media outlets, highlighting their breach of office through unethical behavior as an elected official of the District of Columbia.” It also doesn’t help that Butler intends to pursue four recalls at once, requiring well over 100,000 signatures total.
• It’s a waste of civic resources. Should Butler prove me wrong and collect the 40,000 signatures by June, a recall question would likely appear on the November general election ballot. If it passed, that would set up a costly citywide special election just as candidates would be starting to gear up for the 2014 races. Here’s a better use of Butler’s time and energy: Why not pursue a voter initiative to ease the recall requirement, or look at other ways of improving the accountability of D.C.’s public officials? Even better: Find and start supporting a candidate who could replace Gray or Brown when they’re up for re-election in 2014, or, heck, run yourself.