PORTSMOUTH, JULY 17 -- More than 2,400 petitions to recall Mayor James W. Holley III have been distributed and organizers of the drive say they hope to obtain the necessary signatures by late next week.

Spearheading the recall effort are Vice Mayor Gloria O. Webb and City Council member L. Louise Lucas.

Lucas and Webb said they believe the estimated 8,900 signatures necessary to schedule a recall election will be obtained by late next week. If the necessary number of signatures is collected, the Circuit Court has 10 days in which to validate the petitions and then must set an election date.

Geraldine Holmes, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Steering Committee, said the petition drive has been difficult in the black community because many residents believe "we should not remove a black person from office, even though many of them say he should resign." However, Holmes said, "we'd be derelict in our responsibility if we didn't do anything because he is black."

The executive board of the Central Civic Forum has voted to recommend that its members not support the recall movement. The forum represents seven predominantly black civic leagues.

Holley, the city's first black mayor, has been accused of sending hate mail to community leaders who criticized him for failing to speak against the closing of Norcom High School. Seven of the eight people who received the mail are black. Holley does not face criminal charges.

The petitions ask for the recall of Holley "based on overt, immoral activities which have destroyed the credibility, honor, integrity of the office of the mayor."

Holley on Monday night refused to resign when asked to do so by the other six council members. He denies sending the hate mail, which was liberally sprinkled with profanity, threats and racist remarks.