Petition Drive Underway To Recall Miami-Dade Mayor

In Florida, a well-funded effort is underway to recall the mayor of Miami-Dade County. Why? Because he supported an increase in property taxes at a time when joblessness is high and the economy is hurting. An angry electorate upset about spending and taxes is making it a tough year even for incumbents who aren't up for re-election.

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We've been hearing a lot about voter anger this election season, and it's having an impact, even in places where politicians are not running for re-election. There are multiple efforts to recall sitting officials, especially mayors.

NPR's Greg Allen reports that many mayors are learning, firsthand, the consequences of raising taxes during a time of economic hardship.

GREG ALLEN: Like most local governments across the nation, Miami-Dade County is in a tight spot. With the housing bust, the decline in property values has meant a similar decline in property tax revenue. To balance an already tight budget, Miami-Dade recently raised property taxes.

Local billionaire and civic gadfly Norman Braman decided he'd had enough.

Mr. NORMAN BRAMAN (Businessman): This outrageous tax increase has been enacted while citizens were suffering economically, property values have crumbled, foreclosures are rampant, and unemployment has reached almost 13 percent.

ALLEN: Braman held a news conference to announce he's launching a campaign to recall the county's top official, Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Alvarez is a former cop who's faced off against Braman before - when the billionaire opposed a county plan to build a new baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins. Alvarez says this budget was necessary to avoid cutting services that residents depend on.

Mayor CARLOS ALVAREZ (Miami-Dade, Florida): I don't want to be the mayor that compromises public safety. I don't want to be the mayor that, quite frankly, craps on public service and the quality of life of our people.

ALLEN: Mayor Alvarez has hired a lawyer and started raising funds to defend himself against recall. If enough signatures are gathered, the political battle is likely to build until a special election is held next spring. But this is not just a Miami story. Across the country, in small cities and large, many mayors face similar recall efforts.

Mr. JOHN CHATELAIN: We're here to announce that a group of citizens has organized a committee to look into the feasibility of wanting...

ALLEN: In Omaha, Nebraska, a group recently formed to lead a campaign to recall that city's mayor, Jim Suttle. As in Miami-Dade County, the catalyst was an increase in fees and property taxes. At a news conference, one of the committee members, John Chatelain sounded like he was speaking at a Tea Party rally.

Mr. CHATELAIN: So the people are definitely riled up. They need to have an opportunity for a voice. No matter what the outcome is, we would like to send a message that we that feel the mayor and his administration is attempting to govern against the will of the people.

ALLEN: Jim Rogers, head of the Nebraska Democratic Party, says the recall effort is being driven by Republicans who supported Suttle's opponent in the 2009 mayoral campaign. Rogers fears recalls are becoming a way for opponents to continue their campaigns after the election is over.

Mr. JIM ROGERS (Chairman, Nebraska Democratic Party): Any time we have a disagreement of policy, should we therefore then have a recall of the mayor of that municipality? I mean, you would think that the Republican Party here would be as adamantly opposed to this as we are, because that would be a breakdown of how our system is already set and operates.

ALLEN: There are some campaigns - such as the one under way in Bell, California - that seek to recall mayors and other officials because of misconduct. But in this political season, the factor behind most recalls is taxes. Recalls have been tried recently in Akron; in Toledo, Ohio; in Portland, Oregon; and in Kansas City, Missouri. More are under way in Douglas, Arizona; Johnstown, Colorado and Newton Falls, Ohio - to name just a few.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mayor Ron Littlefield recently faced down a recall effort led, in part, by Tea Party activists upset by an increase in fees and property taxes. Littlefield thinks, in a time of economic uncertainty, political opportunists are using recalls to - in his words - disrupt and intimidate government.

Mayor RON LITTLEFIELD (Chattanooga, Tennessee): As I've told folks, I've been through a number of campaigns in my life, and this was just like the worst mud-slinging, negative campaign that would not end. And, if you're in the situation of being an incumbent, at least until you get down right to the very end, there's not really anything that you can do about it.

ALLEN: One thing about recalls - once the idea takes hold, it can sometimes be hard to stop. Take Flint, Michigan. That city is currently in the middle of an effort to recall its mayor. It's the third recall campaign in the last eight years.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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