When residents of a Detroit suburb go to the polls this Tuesday, they'll cast votes on an local matter that some would say is as crucial as the statewide proposals and presidential election. After a year in office, Troy Mayor Janice Daniels could be recalled.
Daniels, a member of the Tea Party, was elected mayor with a 51.98 percent majority, or 7,709 votes, beating her opponent by fewer than 700 votes. Shortly after elected, she drew criticism for a Facebook post made several months earlier that stated, "I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there."
Since then, other remarks deemed homophobic, her rejection of a transit center that had millions of federal dollars allocated to it and her treatment of the city charter and other City employees has drawn the ire of some Troy residents.
Two of those residents, attorneys John Kulesz and Matt Binkowski, decided to do something about it. With their Recall Janice Daniels campaign, they amassed nearly 9,000 legitimate signatures on a petition to get the recall on the November ballot with the following reasons:
- For referring to the Troy City Charter as a whimsical document in a November 21, 2011 interview with the Detroit Free Press
- For declaring, during an office hours forum on January 9, 2012, that the homosexual lifestyle is dangerous
- For publicly attacking city employees during the January 9, 2012 City Council meeting while reading a 20 minute position paper into the record
- For failing to support a Federal investment in the City of Troy of over $8.4 million, by voting against the Troy Transit Center project on three occasions (December 19, 2011, January 17, 2012, and February 20, 2012)
The recall campaign brought in over $18,000 in donations, attracted more than 100 volunteers and has received the support of community leaders, including three City Council members.
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. HuffPost Detroit talked with Kulesz about the experience of mounting a recall campaign with no political experience, and what comes next for him after the election.
When was the moment you decided to mount a recall campaign?
It wasn't an exact moment. It was more a snowball down a snowy hill. For me it was a series of things. The Facebook comment from last year made me really concerned and it was one thing after another in the first few months of her being mayor that just accrued.
We reached out to some of the local groups in the city and asked if they were interested in doing this and they said yes we'd be interested in helping you and it was that initial interest.
Matt and I felt it was the correct thing to do and we did it and we're thrilled that a lot of people agree with us.
What kinds of reactions did you receive while collecting signatures?
We've done a lot of stuff to bring the message out to the people of Troy, of the fundamental problem of Mayor Janice Daniels' leadership. The response we've gotten every time we've been out to do things for this has been overwhelming. I think that bodes well for our chances.
When we were approaching people everybody sort of had their own reason for wanting the recall to go forward. An elderly gentleman said, "she wouldn't swear an oath to the city charter, that's enough for me." People see [her] fundamental lack of respect in the different reasons.
We raised over $18,000. 85 percent was from Troy residents and people with connections [to the city]. So this really truly has been a grassroots effort.
How has the experience been on a personal level?
It's been amazing and overwhelming and frustrating. When you put out lawn signs and they disappear in a half hour, you think, "this isn't fair," but at the same I think people who wouldn't normally be involved in the public process have the courage to stand up before City Council and say, "Mayor Daniels, you offended me." We've met some amazing people.
Have you played an active role in Troy politics in the past?
This is my first foray into Troy politics. Matt and I were not politically active but we observe, we watch politics, we talk politics and it was Janice Daniels who spurred us into getting involved in the process. This is our hometown. We were raised here and we care about how it's governed and how it's going to proceed into the future.
Some have suggested your recall is influenced by the attempted recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, or supported by the same people. Did it have an effect on your recall?
The stuff in Wisconsin is a Wisconsin matter. It had no bearing on what we did. We researched the statue and followed our instincts. It didn't factor into our decision making.
What happens if Mayor Janice Daniels is recalled?
The Mayor Pro Tem steps in and City Council members have to pick a new mayor and will serve in the seat until the election. It's a decision of Council, but Council represents the city, so I would assume there would be some sort of public hearing on it.
I'll resume my hobby of reading on a regular basis. I have many books on my shelf that are begging to be read.
And if the recall is not successful?
I think we'll take on a watchdog role. We'll serve a role of keeping the citizens of Troy informed of her actions. We'll be watching to make sure … good government function is there.
I think this is a clear demonstration that her victory by the smallest of margins in a non-election year election isn't a mandate to do whatever she wants in the office of mayor.
Troy has gotten national attention for Daniels' statements and actions. How has that spotlight affected the local issue?
That's the problem. When we first started doing this, we got letters from all over the country, saying, "I grew up in the area, thank you for doing that."
We have a lot of work to do to make Troy's reputation what it was, I think, and the first step is removing the mayor. We want to stop the embarrassment of Troy.
Below, see the statewide proposals Michiganders will cast votes on this Tuesday. Get up to speed on the election and follow along with with local and Michigan election news on our Detroit Politics page.
Proposal 1 is a referendum on Public Act 4 of 2011, which means voters are being given an opportunity to keep the law or vote it down. The act is also known as the emergency manager law because it allows the governor to to appoint an official known as an emergency manager (EM) to act in place of local government officials, if a financial emergency is found to exist. The law also sets standards to determine whether or not local government entities (including a school districts) are in financial distress; requires EMs to develop financial and operational plans to resolve a fiscal crisis and gives them special authority to modify or terminate contracts, reorganize government, and determine expenditures, services, and use of assets to achieve that goal; and also allows a state-appointed review team to enter into an agreement with a local government called a consent decree to resolve a financial emergency. Although Public Act 4 was passed last year, it's temporarily on hold due to state rules governing ballot referendums. A 'YES' vote on the referendum would reinstate the law. Pictured: Members and supporters of the referendum on Public Act 4 drop off boxes of petitions in Lansing in February 2012. (File photo: David Sands/HuffPost)
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce supports Proposal 1 and keeping PA 4 on the books. "Repeal of this important reform, through ballot initiative, legislative or legal action would severely hinder state government’s effort to improve the fiscal health of local governments and public schools," the organization said in a statement on it's website. Video: Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley explains the impact of Proposal One on Michigan's emergency manager law.
The group Stand Up For Democracy gathered petitions to hold this referendum and vote down Public Act 4. Here's what they say about the law: "This is just a power grab by politicians in Lansing. Political opponents of local officials don't have to beat them in elections. They can just get Governor Snyder and politicians in Lansing to take away power and put their people in place, people who support their political agenda – not the needs of people in the community. We need our leaders to come together to find solutions, not take away voting rights and strip decision-making power from local communities." Video: "Dictators Over Communities of Color"
This proposal would amend Michigan's constitution to grant public and private-sector employees the right to organize and collectively bargain through unions. It would void existing or future state or local laws restricting workers ability to organize unions, or to negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements, including employees’ financial support of their labor unions. It would, however, still permit laws to be made that prohibit public employees from striking. The amendment would also override state laws regulating hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflict with collective bargaining agreements. Under the law, an "employer" would be defined as any person or entity employing one or more people. Pictured: Detroit wastewater treatement plant workers and supporters walk the picket line during a strike in October 2012. (File photo: David Sands/HuffPost)
The group Protect Working Families supports Proposal 2. "That protection is needed because corporate special interests are pressuring Lansing politicians to eliminate collective bargaining," reads a release from the group. "Collective bargaining gives a voice to working families to negotiate for fair wages, benefits and safer working conditions that are good for us all."
The organization Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution opposes proposal 2. The following is a statement from their website. "This proposal is a deceitful measure that will enhance perks to special interests at the expense of taxpayers. This long and complicated proposal is a union boss wish list of policy ideas that would turn back the clock to the days when union bosses called the shots in Michigan."
Michigan's constitution would also be amended under Proposal 3, a ballot measure that would make the state's utilities comply with a new standard for renewable energy. The amendment would set a deadline of 2025 to require electric utilities to generate at least 25 percent of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources, which include wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower. It would limit electric utility rate increases charged to consumers only to achieve compliance to not more than one percent per year. It would also allow annual extensions of the deadline to meet the 25 percent standard in order to prevent rate increases over the 1 percent limit and require the legislature to enact additional laws to encourage the use of Michigan-made equipment and employment of Michigan residents. (File photo:AP/Ferdinand Ostrop)
The group Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs argues Prop 3 would help create a clean energy industry in Michigan while helping the environment. "Using more wind and solar energy will reduce pollution and give Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water, protect the Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease and ultimately save lives," reads a statement on the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs website.
Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution says in a statement on its website that Prop 3 "is likely to increase energy costs dramatically in the future and is a dishonest attempt by investors to cash in on the energy market through our Constitution." The site notes that Michigan already has a law on the books promoting renewable energy (10 percent by 2015) and argues that rather than "lock anyone’s idea in the constitution," Michigan voters should be "flexible" on the issue of how power is generated.
This proposal would amend the state constitution to create a governmental body called the Michigan Quality Home Care Council and allow for limited collective bargaining for home health care workers. The council would be responsible for training home health care workers, creating an employee registry, holding background checks, and offering financial services to patients to manage the costs of care. If passed, the measure would also authorize the council to set minimum compensation standards and terms and conditions of employment. The non-partisan Citizen's Research Council of Michigan estimates the amendment would impact around 42,000 in-home care workers hired by participants in the the Home Help Services Program, which is funded by Medicaid and paid through the Michigan Department of Community Health. The new council would play a role similar to a body called the Michigan Quality Community Care Council that was defunded by the state legislature in 2011. Under that setup, home health care workers were classified as public employees, which allowed Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan to collect dues from their wages. State legislators passed a law changing this classification to deny it union representation, but a federal judge later passed an preliminary injunction on the law until SEIU's contract expires in 2013. Proposal 4 would create a new body that would fill a similar role to the previously established council. (File photo: Alamy)
The group Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care supports Proposal 4. A statement on its website says the amendment "would give all Michiganders – including seniors and persons with disabilities – the choice to direct their own care in their own homes, instead of forcing them into expensive nursing homes or institutions."
Proposal 4 is opposed by the group Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution. A statement on its website says, "This proposal isn’t about quality of health care. This is about cash going to the union SEIU for them to spend on a political agenda." Video: Mackinac Center analysis of Prop 4
This measure would amend the state constitution to change how the state government puts new taxes in place. It would require either a two-thirds majority vote in the State House and the State Senate, or a statewide vote of the people at a November election to raise taxes. The measure would apply to new or additional taxes, the expansion of tax bases, and rate increases. It would not limit or modify tax restrictions already in the state constitution. (File photo: State of Michigan)
Proposal 5 is supported by The Michigan Alliance For Prosperity, which on its website says: "The two-thirds majority initiative protects Michigan taxpayers by encouraging better cooperation between elected officials, fewer increases in our taxes, responsible discussion across party lines and a greater emphasis on reform, prioritization of spending and fiscal responsibility." (File Photo: AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Defend Michigan Democracy opposes the measure. In a statement on its website, the group says: "Proposal 5 is almost entirely funded by a lone Detroit billionaire, Matty Moroun. He spent nearly $2.3 million to buy enough signatures of Michigan voters to put the proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. ... This plot is to buy a constitutional amendment that would protect tax policies that benefit billionaire Moroun and other special interests at the expense of Michigan’s future prosperity and local taxpayers."
If Prop 6 becomes law it will amend the state constitution in regards to the construction of international bridges and tunnels. The measure would require approval from a majority of voters in a statewide election and in every municipality where “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” are to be located. The votes would be needed to allow the State of Michigan spend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels. The proposal would define “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” as “any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.” The ballot measure concerns an effort to construct a new bridge over the Detroit River connecting the U.S. and Canada, which is known as the New International Trade Crossing (NITC). Canada has offered to pay $550 million for Michigan's share of expenses for the construction of the estimated $2.1 billion bridge. The crossing has been supported by Gov. Snyder, but has been opposed by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun. (File Photo/Artist Rendering: AP/Michigan Department of Transportation)
The group The People Should Decided Ballot Committee, supports the proposal 6. A statement on their website reads: "The bottom line is there is tremendous risk associated with committing public dollars to such a massive infrastructure project. ... With so much on the line for Michigan taxpayers, simple prudence demands that everyone whose tax dollars are at risk be given an opportunity for his or her voice to be heard."
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley opposes the ballot measure and supports the construction of the NITC, he told MLive: “The proposal is really nothing more than a delay tactic and effort by one special interest to abuse our constitution to provide protection for his monopoly.” Video: Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.