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Recall effort against Assembly Chair Felix Rivera submits 4,999 signatures to municipal clerk

(Matt Leseman)
Published: Jan. 6, 2021 at 3:12 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The group leading an effort to recall Acting Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera say they’ve submitted enough signatures to the municipal clerk’s office to put the recall vote on a ballot.

“Today, 300+ petition sponsors and 5000 midtown residents are submitting the necessary signatures to initiate the recall vote of Assembly Chair Felix Rivera,” reads a written statement from the sponsors, provided by lead petitioner Russell Biggs.

Biggs clarified that 4,999 signatures were submitted Tuesday. The municipal clerk’s office now has 10 days to review them. If at least 2,735 of the signatures are found to be valid, the recall petition will go before the assembly, then either on a regular or special election ballot between 45 and 75 days after its submission.

The grounds for recall go back to an Aug. 11 Assembly meeting last year where petitioners say Rivera failed to perform his duties as Assembly Chair by allowing more than 15 people, the limit at the time due to emergency orders, to be in the chambers. During the meeting, an assembly member alleged there were 17 people, but the meeting carried on despite that.

However, the larger reason petitioners have said they’re trying to recall Rivera is because of dissatisfaction with his and other assembly members’ actions during the pandemic.

“Over the last nine months, these 5000 Anchorage citizens have watched Felix Rivera and the majority of the Anchorage Assembly divert nearly $50 million of CARES Act funds to pet projects like bike trails and homeless hotels,” the statement reads, referring to a controversial proposal to purchase three buildings for homeless services using Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds, as well as a program to perform trail maintenance.

The municipality has since declined to purchase two of the three buildings, though did move forward with the purchase of a fourth for addiction treatment services using proceeds from the sale of Municipal Light and Power.

Since the recall effort began, Rivera has dismissed it as “frivolous,” arguing the grounds for recall are an excuse to get him out of office because of decisions the petitioners disagreed with.

“These folks are trying to use this one grounds as a foot in the door because they don’t like a whole lot of other things that have happened,” Rivera said. “I can understand if folks don’t like votes that I have taken ... the way to deal with that is by running against me in a regular election.”

Another group, calling itself the Midtown Citizens Coalition, has filed a suit against the municipal clerk, arguing it was incorrect to approve the recall petition initially. Thomas Amodio, the lawyer representing the coalition, said there are a number of reasons they believe the petition should have been rejected, one of which is that the assembly chair is elected by the assembly rather than directly by voters.

“The municipal clerk found they couldn’t recall individual assembly members for the same violation,” Amodio said, referring to rejected recall applications for several other Assembly members. “So our argument is the people, the voters, don’t choose the assembly chair, it’s the assembly that chooses.”

Biggs said in an email that the recall group is not involved in that suit, and worried it could slow down the possibility of getting the recall on a ballot.

“Because our group is no party to the suit, and it is instead a separate entity suing the city to block the recall, we do not have the ability to force that case to be expedited easily,” he wrote.

He added that the group had their signatures verified by an independent service before submitting them and that there would need to be legal intervention if they are rejected by the clerk’s office.

The entirety of the recall effort’s statement is included below:

“Today, 300+ petition sponsors and 5000 midtown residents are submitting the necessary signatures to initiate the recall vote of Assembly Chair Felix Rivera. Over the last 9 months, these 5000 Anchorage citizens have watched Felix Rivera and the majority of the Anchorage assembly divert nearly 50 million dollars of CARES act funds to pet projects like bike trails and homeless hotels. These 5000 citizens have watched hundreds of businesses fail while the majority of the assembly, chaired by Felix Rivera, voted consistently to prioritize cronyism and corruption over the economic needs of the thousands of Anchorage citizens losing their jobs. These 5000 citizens have also watched these same politicians abuse emergency mandates in an attempt to deny the public the right to fully participate in their government, and then show a stunningly callous disregard to those same mandates when it was convenient to their own political agenda. That agenda now includes Felix Rivera and the current political leadership of Midtown - Assemblymember Meg Zaletel, Senator Elvi Gray Jackson, Representative Berta Gardener, and Representative Andy Josephson among others, actively fundraising to block this legal recall petition via the courts, once again denying their own constituents a constitutional right guaranteed in the political process. That should make every resident of Midtown both alarmed and angry. Finally, and most importantly, we applaud the efforts of all who made this campaign successful. Many, many people worked extremely diligently under the stresses of both a global pandemic and the worst of Alaskan winter weather to make their voice in democracy heard today. I am happy and grateful to call these people neighbors and fellow Alaskans.”

Zaletel confirmed with Alaska’s News Source that she hosted a fundraiser for Rivera’s recall legal defense fund. Gray-Jackson said she has donated to the legal defense fund and was a co-host for the midtown fundraiser but said that “actively fundraising” was a misstatement. Josephson said that he has made a small contribution to the fund and publicly wished to defend Felix, though says he is also not to be considered actively fundraising.

Gardner was unable to be reached for comment by the time of publication.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from Rep. Josephson.

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