LAWRENCE – Hoping to end the recall madness in a city where five of the last six mayors faced efforts to remove them, Councilor Marc Laplante is proposing to make it harder to get the measures on the ballot.
Laplante would increase the number of signatures required on affidavits from voters saying they would support a recall from 100 to 250. If that threshold is met and the City Clerk issues recall petitions to organizers of the effort, Laplante would double the number of signatures they would need to collect to require the city to hold a referendum, from 15 percent to 30 percent of the city's voters.
There were 40,645 people registered to vote in Lawrence on Wednesday, according to the city's Election Division. Laplante's proposal would raise the number of their signatures needed to hold a recall referendum from 6,097 to 12,194.
Laplante said the bar for recalls needs to be raised because he said they've been used as vendettas against mayors and diverted the city's focus and resources from more important issues.
“The recall provision (of the City Charter) should be used as a tool of last resort, not as a primary measure to hinder government or settle political scores,” Laplante said. “The bar to achieve a recall should be high, but not impossible to reach.”
City Council President Kendrys Vasquez supports the proposal.
“We have to ensure that the process in place is a process that's not taken advantage of unnecessarily,” Vasquez said.
Rivera said he would sign the measure if it is passed by the City Council, where it will need six votes because it would amend the City Charter. The state legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker also would need to support the proposal before it could become law.
“I support the general concept that (recalls) should be accessible but not abused,” Rivera said. “The number of recalls we've had, not just in my term but in the history of the city, I think merits review and adjusting. I'm not sure the drafters of the charter meant it to be used this way, an every-term occurrence.”
Louis Farrah, a lawyer who represents a so-far unsuccessful effort to recall Mayor Daniel Rivera that is now in court, did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
Lawrence began its love affair with recalls in 1990, when the man former Mayor Kevin Sullivan defeated at the polls less than a year earlier attempted to remove him by stirring voter passion against his support for a plan to move Emerson College from Boston to a site beside the Merrimack River in South Lawrence.
The effort fell 600 signatures short of the 3,042 that were needed at the time to put the recall on the ballot.
None of the efforts to recall four of the five mayors who followed Sullivan – Mary Claire Kennedy, Patricia Dowling, William Lantigua and Rivera – made it to the ballot. Like Lantigua, Rivera has faced two recall efforts. Organizers of the first never returned petitions. Organizers of the second effort returned petitions with more than 8,000 signatures – well above the … that were needed – but the city's Board of Registrars rejected 3,000 of them, enough to derail the effort. Farrah has appealed the registrars' ruling to the state's Court of Appeals.
Over the last quarter century, only one mayor – Michael Sullivan, the younger brother of Kevin Sullivan – has been spared. He served two four-year terms without a recall.
Laplante noted that the bar for holding a referendum to recall a mayor is higher in other municipalities, including Boston, where he said the signatures of half the city's voters are needed.
“Unfortunately in Lawrence, the recall tool is the vehicle of first resort rather than the last,” Laplante said. “Thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, appeals to the Board of Registrars and Superior Court, and a ton of attention that could be spent on critical city issues has made it necessary to seek changes to the recall process.”