Running a recall

Three women — one white, one black and one Hispanic — lean over a Google map of southwest Detroit that they've printed out, marking streets with a yellow highlighter.

As the trio devise a plan of attack, five others stand nearby, waiting for their marching orders on a recent Sunday evening. One is a retired Detroit cop. Another is a lab technician. There's a psychoanalyst in the group, and a city worker.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, they are bound together for a single purpose: As residents of Detroit, they all want to see Kwame Kilpatrick removed from office and are out here volunteering their time to knock on doors and gather signatures in an effort to have the mayor face a recall vote.

After failing once, Angelo Brown, a 45-year-old security guard from southwest Detroit, received approval of petition language from the Wayne County Election Commission in late April. One news report quoted a Kilpatrick lawyer as saying the mayor's team didn't vigorously oppose Brown's effort because he appeared to lack the financial and organizational resources to run a successful campaign.

Because only one recall petition can be circulated at a time, a weak attempt actually benefits the mayor by keeping others with more resources from mounting a similar effort.

But Team Kilpatrick may have underestimated Brown, who, almost as an act of faith, believed that once the recall began, volunteers would be drawn to the cause. The appearance of volunteers didn't happen as quickly as Brown had hoped. In recent weeks, however, the presidents of AFSCME union locals representing 3,500 city employees agreed to join the recall campaign, providing a significant boost in manpower to a group that had only about 50 volunteers less than three months ago. There's also a website (, that is helping to attract volunteers.

The recall campaign has a total of 180 days to gather nearly 57,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot. But, to qualify for the November election, those names have to be submitted by Aug. 1.

Reached on Monday, Brown told Metro Times he didn't have an updated count. The last time he did a thorough check — more than a month ago — the number topped 20,000, he says. He expects a big jump when a new tally is made, possibly this week.

So far, Team Kilpatrick seems unshaken.

"Mayor Kilpatrick was elected to office by the citizens of Detroit twice because they saw the transformation taking place in this city," says mayoral spokesman James Canning. "Mr. Brown has every right to attempt a recall, but the mayor intends to keep working for the betterment of this city."

Brown contends that one of the obstacles being faced is a fear among people that the mayor and his allies might retaliate against those supporting a recall.

"It says something about what's going on in this city, that so many people are afraid of this mayor," says Brown. "The amount of paranoia we've been seeing is unbelievable."

Toni McIlwain says she's seeing signs of that same sort of fear. As president of Ravendale Community Inc., a nonprofit that provides educational and community services on Detroit's east side, McIlwain's organization is providing office space for petition gatherers to work from.

She says some volunteers have balked at submitting petitions with their names attached. It is a requirement that petition gatherers be identified on each completed form that's handed in.

"They say, 'What if Kwame sees my name?'" says McIlwain. "They are worried about backlash. We have to convince them to sign their names. To see that sort of thing happen makes me even more convinced that this is a mayor who's not looking out for the best interests of the people of this city. If people are that afraid of him, then something is wrong."

A community activist for 20 years, McIlwain says she voted for Kilpatrick when he first ran for mayor in 2001. His "youthfulness" and "innovative ideas" appealed to her. But she began to sour on the new mayor soon after he took office, saying it quickly became apparent that promoting the interests of Kwame Kilpatrick was his top priority.

"It's all about who he is," says McIlwain.

Her organization currently receives no city funding, although it did receive a $30,000 grant when Dennis Archer was mayor. The fact that future contributions from the city would be even more unlikely given the support it is lending to the recall campaign didn't deter McIlwain from joining the effort.

Petition gatherers are given cards that state the mayor should be removed because "with his current and future legal problems, he is too preoccupied to be effective as the mayor. Even worse, more and more of our tax dollars are not being used for public services and our public safety."

For Vincent and Precious Daniels, however, the issue is much broader than that. Having seen most of their friends leave the city, the husband and wife — he's a security guard and she's a lab technician; both are African-American and in their 30s — say that if diehard holdouts like them finally give it up, then the city is truly lost. And for them to want to stay, Kilpatrick needs to go.

"I saw the whole thing about the Navigator scandal and I let it go," says Vincent. "I saw other problems, and I let them go too. The mayor apologized, and said he changed. But the way I see it now, he's like an abusive husband and the city of Detroit is like a battered wife. It is at the point now where we have to tell him to leave."

Out knocking on doors, the couple finds people in this impoverished southwest Detroit neighborhood are eager to sign the petition. But the going is slow on blocks where there are more vacant lots and empty structures than there are occupied homes.

Connie Supan, a Detroit psychotherapist, is also out knocking on doors. After making her first stop she comes out of a house smiling as she raises three fingers in the air. At the next house a group of people speaking Spanish are having a back yard cookout. Only one of the group is a citizen, and she's not registered to vote.

Supan takes care of that problem by having the young woman fill out a voter registration form before signing the recall petition. In a neighborhood like Delray, with its high immigrant population, the situation is fairly common.

Supan laughs when she recalls that, on a previous outing, the citizens she signed up promised to turn out in November if the measure makes it onto the ballot.

"And the people who weren't citizens," she says, "all said that they would pray for us."

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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