VINELAND — The battle to decide the political fate of Mayor Ruben Bermudez begins in earnest Thursday.
That is when officials and volunteers with the Committee to Recall Mayor Ruben Bermudez will start going door-to-door to gather more than 9,000 signatures needed to hold an election that could oust the city’s first Hispanic chief executive.
Recall proponents had planned to start circulating the petitions on Dec. 12, two days after city Clerk Keith Petrosky certified the committee’s petitions.
However, Tami Harold, a committee leader, said the organization decided not to burden local residents with the recall during the holiday season. The plan is to begin circulating the petitions after a news conference Thursday, she said.
Harold said that while the number of signatures needed to put the recall issue before local voters seems large, she is confident that a growing number of volunteers — there are about 100 — can accomplish the mission.
“If you’re fishing in a sea of 40,000 fish and you only need 10,000, it’s not a lot,” she said.
Bermudez could not be reached for comment.
Neither the state nor the state League of Municipalities keeps records regarding the success rate of recall elections.
However, according to the website ballotpedia.org, mayors are subject to recall in 38 states.
The website says there were at least 32 mayoral recall attempts in 2012. Only seven of those attempts resulted in mayors being cast out of office, with six other mayors retaining their posts. The other recall attempts are either still underway, were abandoned by their organizers or stopped by the courts.
Attempts to recall mayors and other elected officials in South Jersey have resulted in mixed results over the past decade.
For instance, a move to recall Millville City Commissioner David Vanaman in 2012 failed after organizers could not get enough signatures on their petitions to put the issue before the voters.
In December 2009, voters in Wildwood recalled Mayor Ernie Troiano and City Commissioner Bill Davenport. Voters then returned Troiano to City Commission 17 months later.
In West Wildwood in 2008, Mayor Herbert Fredericks and City Commissioner Gerard McNamara narrowly held onto their positions in a recall movement that dragged on for months before it was settled in the courts.
Opponents of Atlantic City Mayor Bob Levy tried to recall him in 2006 and 2007. Levy wound up resigning from office in November 2007 before the recall issue was ever settled.
And in 2004, an Ocean City group fell 200 votes short of getting enough signatures to force a recall election of Mayor Henry Knight.
In 2011, the number of mayoral recall elections prompted the United States Conference of Mayors to release an original documentary called “Recall Fever.”
The documentary focused on local recall efforts and what the organization said was a “growing movement around the country” to recall mayors. The documentary featured mayors who faced recall movements, along with strategies to both survive and launch a recall.
Then there is the expense of a recall election. City officials estimate a recall election here will cost about $80,000.
That could be a bargain: ballotpedia.org shows that a mayoral recall attempt in Akron, Ohio, in 2009 cost the city about $200,000. The mayor spent about $300,000 in his successful battle to stay in office.
The Vineland recall committee has until May 19 to gather the signatures of 9,447 of the city’s registered voters. The number of signatures represents 25 percent of the total number of registered voters in the city. The signatures must be certified by the city Clerk’s Office before the issue can be placed before voters.
The petitions contain statements from both the recall committee and Bermudez.
The recall committee’s statement reads that “We feel Mayor Bermudez has neglected his sworn duties, exhibited gross misuse of office, and has shown incompetence in the performance of his duties of mayor which has had an adverse effect upon the city and citizens of Vineland.”
Bermudez’s statement on the petition reads, in part, “The people distributing this petition are lying and cannot be trusted. Mayor Bermudez is a competent mayor and has done nothing wrong, nothing illegal and/or nothing immoral. Your mayor is only trying to change the inefficient & ineffective organization he inherited, and the ‘good old boys network’ trying to stop him. Don’t be fooled! By signing this recall petition you’re supporting wasteful, self-interest, business as usual in Vineland.”
Should the movement lead to a recall election, voters will get to pick who will serve as mayor.
Two people — former Mayor Robert Romano and former City Council and Board of Education candidate David Mazur — have already said they would run for mayor. Local businessman Gary Galloway has indicated he might seek the office.
Bermudez was elected mayor in December in a runoff election that denied Romano a second consecutive term.
Contact Thomas Barlas: