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.