History may favor Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser in recall

Thursday, May 28, 2009 | 2:36 p.m. CDT; updated 4:20 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 28, 2009

KANSAS CITY — Mayor Mark Funkhouser has vowed to ramp up his fight against a recall effort. But if history is an indication, maybe he should relax.

"Most recalls are not successful," said Max Skidmore, professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "It's difficult to whip up enough enthusiasm."

Organizers trying to recall Funkhouser have turned in an estimated 20,000 signatures. Vickie Thompson, city clerk, on Thursday said election officials likely will determine by Saturday if the petition has the 16,950 signatures required to put the recall on the ballot later this year.

The city previously had said election officials had until Monday to certify the petition, but Thompson said Thursday that the city charter gives them five calendar days, meaning the decision probably will come Saturday. Organizers of the drive submitted the last of the signatures they had collected on Monday.

Funkhouser's opponents say he should be recalled because he has violated the city's volunteer ordinance and nepotism rules.

"The people of Kansas City have spoken loudly and clearly and with a very firm voice that this mayor has to go," Harris Wilder, the group's spokesman, said.

But the mayor denies the accusations and said he would fight a recall.

"If anything, I haven't fought hard enough. I haven't been aggressive enough. I'm only going to ramp it up," Funkhouser said.

Jennie Bowser, senior elections analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, said that of state-level recalls in the last 20 years, only eight had enough signatures to get all the way to the ballot. Fewer than half the states have recall provisions, she said.

In California from 1911 to 1994, 107 recall efforts were initiated at the state level, but only four had enough signatures to make the ballot, Bowser said.

"In those rare cases when it does succeed, there must be some pretty widespread dissatisfaction with that official," she said.

Skidmore called recall elections the "hydrogen bomb of American politics" because they're a "pretty crude implement."

In principle, he said, recalls are democratic because they give people the chance to change their mind. "But in actual practice because so few people take part in those offbeat elections, it gives the small minority the chance to determine the outcome," Skidmore said. "It has the facade of democracy, but the effects of it are really not democratic."

Bowser, however, said recall elections serve an important purpose and that the recall petition alone can have an impact.

"I think sometimes, just the act of filing the petition and gathering the signatures sort of conveys the dissatisfaction," she said.

Wilder, spokesman for the recall group, said he thinks "the numbers against the mayor are overwhelming." But he estimated that anywhere from 17 percent to 20 percent of the signatures collected could be deemed invalid, which would make the signature count tight.

"It could be close," Wilder said. "But this is not going away."

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