Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce could be the subject of a recall effort.
Campaigns for public office are long, expensive and often times can get messy. But what about when the roles are reversed and it’s the public petitioning for a recall election?
A growing number of downtown residents are examining whether they will take up the cause in an effort to remove Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce from office just over a year into her term as a very public investigation into an incident involving her former chief of staff unfolds in real time.
Tommy Tso and Jonathan Crouch helped form the Facebook group “RECALL JEANNINE PEARCE FROM LONG BEACH CITY COUNCIL” and are leading the potential effort to actually file that paperwork and move forward with the process.
Their discontent with Pearce began long before she was found on the side of the Long Beach (710) Freeway with her former chief of staff Devin Cotter, an episode that has resulted in questions over who was the aggressor in an alleged domestic violence incident between the two, whether or not Pearce received preferential treatment from the Long Beach Police Department, and if the city may be liable for any employment code violations.
No, their complaints started, and persist, with the bullhorns outside the Westin on Ocean Boulevard, as protesters continue their displays outside the downtown hotel. The disruptive displays, they say, are a constant reminder of Pearce’s ties to unions—she previously worked for the Los Angeles Alliance for A New Economy (LAANE) who helped organize the protests—and how she’s been unresponsive to their requests for them to stop.
“It’s one thing for me to send an email or a tweet to Donald Trump and not get a response,” Tso told the Post recently. “It’s one thing for me to send one to Diane Feinstein and not get a response, she represents 38 million people. The District Two council person is the lowest level of government representation that I have, I would love to get a response every once in awhile.”
Crouch added that several members of their circle have been blocked on social media from accessing Pearce’s accounts.
This week, in light of President Trump’s propensity to block people on Twitter, Slate outlined multiple federal court decisions that prohibit politicians from blocking or deleting constituent comments as it violates the First Amendment rights of their constituents. This week Crouch advised the councilwoman that they would seek out the help of the American Civil Liberties Union if that practice persists.
In a phone interview with the Post, Pearce denied that there has been widespread blocking of persons on her accounts, which are run by a team of people within her office. She admitted that one person was blocked during the campaign, but since she took office she said that, to her knowledge, nobody else had been blocked.
“If there’s a difference of opinion, we welcome the difference of opinion on social media,” Pearce said. “What we don’t welcome is cyber bullying and name calling. That’s something that I don’t stand for whether it’s directed toward me or toward other people on my social media accounts.”
She denied the men’s assertions that she’s been unresponsive to her constituency, noting that responses to community calls to her office have increased by 50 percent in her first year on the job. Pearce said that while she does only represent some 50,000 people, those residents make up one of the most diverse council districts in the city.
Those residents that live on Ocean Boulevard, like Tso and Crouch, have been statistically proven to have a nearly 7-year longer life expectancy than her constituents on 10th Street, Pearce said. She added that it’s hard to please everyone, but it’s her job to have eyes and ears in every part of the district.
“I feel extremely confident about the way that I’ve provided services and been a civil servant to the residents in the community and I think the majority of residents are really happy with my role in office,” Pearce said. “While some people might feel otherwise, I’m here until the voters tell me they’d like different representation.”
The two men are part of a group of roughly 50 people who are seeking to do just that. They’ve used their Facebook page as a place to consolidate the day’s local news coverage of the scandal that is currently being investigated by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. They also use it as a sounding board for their recall effort, posting articles on what it would take to accomplish it.
First they would have to draft recall petition language which would site the basic information, including the reason why Pearce is being recalled, according to California election laws. The language would be referred to the city attorney’s office where, if deemed to have merit, would be designated as a ballot measure, much like the recent efforts to legalize medicinal marijuana in the city.
Then they’re going to need a lot of signatures.
The laws also stipulate that Tso and Crouch’s effort will require 20 percent of the registered voters in the district to confirm a recall of an elected official. That translates to about 6,463 signatures. Just over 11,000 people voted in last June’s runoff that saw Pearce take the Second District seat by 322 votes. They’d have 180 days to collect those signatures and return them to the city clerk’s office for verification, a process that could take “as long as it takes” according to the city clerk’s office.
Just like the verification process for a ballot measure, which involves making sure that those signatures turned in belong to actual registered voters in the Second District, it would be up to the clerk’s discretion to verify just a sampling of the signatures or require every single signature to be verified.
While they’re still mulling their options, the group is optimistic as they see the signature threshold within reach.
“This started in a matter of a few days ago,” Crouch said. “Is it thousands of people? Not yet. But at the same time there are voices out there that are upset about this. Both with the lack of response and the transparency issue in this whole case. That’s why I just see it growing.”
The city’s municipal code then dictates that a special election will be held, with an estimated cost of about $151,000, according to the Los Angeles County Clerk-Registrar’s cost estimator tool. The cost of the price can fluctuate if it coincides with another regularly scheduled election. To remove Pearce, the group would need over 50 percent of the vote to agree to recall her and then any candidate receiving the highest percentage of votes would become the new council member.
The city’s last special election occurred in 2015 to fill the seat vacated by then-Fourth District Councilman Patrick O’Donnell after he won a seat in the California State Assembly. That cost was estimated by the city clerk’s office to be about $175,000, or $6.50 per voter.
Before that, a special election was held to replace former Second District Councilman Dan Baker, who resigned amid the discovery of his controversial business partnership with the head of the Long Beach Police Officers Association.
The last time a city council member came close to being recalled was former Seventh District Councilman James Johnson who had a petition circulated in an effort to oust him from office in 2011 but the effort was abandoned due to monetary constraints in trying to collect the required signatures.
Johnson had been accused of not responding to the district’s needs in both public safety and public health. He faced similar claims that he was neglecting a portion of his constituency capped off when he voted to cut funding to the police department.
Will the crowded 2018 ballot, which features five other council races, the mayor’s seat and three other citywide positions, also feature a recall for the Second District? And if the group files and loses would they see it as a success anyway?
“Absolutely,” Crouch said. “I think waking up the district as far as what’s going on, of course.”
Tso recalled his two decades of living in the city and the general lethargy drowning out civic engagement. He said if this were to happen two years ago he doubts he could’ve gotten two signatures to oust former Second District Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, but Pearce, he said, has elicited a different response from the neighborhood.
“It’s not your usual ‘the government sucks and I hate this feeling’,” Tso said. “I think that people are fairly educated on their opinions on the issues, on this current situation and everyone’s really looking for a similar outcome. Transparency, the truth and a council member that’s responsive to the district.”
Any hopes of Pearce resigning will have to be put on hold. She said she’s staying put.
“We’ve had lots of attempted recalls in this city and, like I said, I still feel confident about the work that we’ve done,” Pearce said. “I don’t plan on leaving office anytime soon.”
Jason Ruiz covers transportation for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or 951-310-1772.
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