PORTSMOUTH, VA., AUG. 13 -- Supporters of a movement to recall Mayor James W. Holley III presented the clerk of the Circuit Court today with a stack of petitions signed by thousands of citizens who want Holley ousted from office.

The petitions ask the court to set a special recall election and were gathered after it was revealed last month that fingerprints matching Holley's had been found on three pieces of hate mail sent to prominent black leaders who opposed the closing of I.C. Norcom High School.

Holley, 60, the city's first black mayor and a member of City Council for 19 years, has denied sending the letters on which were scrawled obscene or racial messages.

Holley has refused to resign, despite appeals from some other politicians and community leaders. He could not be reached for comment today.

Eugene Baldwin, organizer of the recall movement, and about 20 other recall supporters brought the petitions to Circuit Court Clerk Walter Edmonds about 9:15 a.m.

The stack of petitions, which stood about five inches high, carried the signatures of about 12,000 registered voters, said Baldwin.

"I think there's a message here to, perhaps, future politicians," Baldwin said. "Regardless of who's sitting up there in the ivory tower, the citizens want clean government."

If there are no challenges to the petitions within 10 days, Judge William Oast Jr. will set a special recall election, probably in November, Edmonds said.

However, it is almost certain there will be challenges from Holley's supporters, who say they believe the recall movement is racially motivated, premature and unconstitutional.

"We're urging all the citizens to submit written challenges to the court," said Shirley Hines, leader of Concerned Citizens for Portsmouth in Support of Mayor Holley.

"I am disappointed {that they have proceeded with the recall effort} because there have been no criminal charges and there has been no definite case," Hines said.

To get a recall election, the signatures of 8,900 registered voters had to be collected, but organizers wanted extra names in case some signers were not officially registered voters.