BY TOM HESTER SR.
Tim and Joanne O‘Neill of Collingswood and Newark-base pro-labor lawyer Bennet Zurofsky of Maplewood have set a big goal for their fledgling political organization, NJ-CAN: Late this year or early in 2012, they intend to seek the signatures of at least 1,317,000 of New Jersey’s 5.27 million registered voters — or 25 percent of them — to force an election to recall Gov. Chris Christie.
“A recall petition is not that difficult,” O‘Neill, a supervising clerk with the Camden County Board of Social Services said on Thursday. “It’s just a matter of getting people to sign it.”
O’Neill, who describes himself as a Democratic foot soldier since before Gov. Jim Florio was elected in 1989, said NJ-CAN’s announced plan to try to recall the Republican governor, so far, has garnered the endorsement of the Industrial Union Council and Labor for Peace and has caught the interest of firefighters union leaders.
O’Neill said the effort is not a disguise for the public employee unions who are enraged at Christie and 22 “Christiecrats” who teamed up with him to raise the cost of health and pension benefits for 550,000 state and local public workers in an effort to save the financially-struggling benefit system from ruin. But O’Neill added it was the decision of Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex) and 20 other Democrats to join Christie in hiking the benefit costs that led him and his wife and Zurofsky to launch NJ-CAN.
O’Neill said NJ-CAN has no plan to attempt to recall the “Christiecrats,” and instead wants to go after them at the polls on Election Day.
It’s not impossible to recall a high-ranking public official but it isn’t easy.
Last year, a group calling itself NJ Against Chris Christie gave notice that it was moving to recall the governor even though he had been in office no more than six month. The group gave as its reason: “Gross mismanagement of New Jersey finances by overspending taxpayers’ money, threatening public safety by cutting funds to local governments, failing to account for the exorbitant cost of property taxes, and failing in general to deal with the state’s major problems until they get to the crisis stage.”
NJ Against Chris Christie never got off the ground.
In the past 90 years, two governors have been successfully recalled, Gray Davis in California in 2003 and Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921. An effort to recall Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is presently underway. The attempt by Wisconsin public employees to oust six Republican state senators that gained national attention earlier this week ended with the recall of two of them.
An attempt to recall U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) ended in the state Supreme Court last year with a defeat for a New Jersey Tea Party faction that called itself The Committee to Recall Menendez. The court held there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution to recall a U.S. senator.
Nationally since 1911, there have been 23 noteworthy successful recalls, including River Vale Mayor Walter Jones and Council members Patricia Geier and Bernard Salmon in 1994 and Roosevelt Mayor Neil Marka in 2006. An attempt to recall Ridgefield Mayor Anthony R. Suarez that began in 2009 failed.
Besides having to find the many volunteers it would take to garner 1,317,000 signatures — there are 1.7 million registered Democrats and 2.4 million independents — the O’Neills and Zurofsky would need to form a recall committee and, if it raises money to finance a campaign, name a treasurer and file finance reports with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. They also would have to notify Christie of their intent within 30 days, an action that would allow the governor to form a Recall Defense Committee and raise money to defend his record. The state Secretary of State, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, would have to certify that the thousands of signatures were legitimate.
Eighteen states allow recall attempts. The first recall effort in what is now the United States occurred in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631.
But before moving to recall Christie, NJ-CAN has two other goals.