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Total Recall: Can It Happen in Broward?

As we watch the images of the common folks -- and multimillionaire Norman Braman -- celebrating in Miami over the successful recall of Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas, it's easy to wonder: Can it happen here?

Can the people in Broward County dump the corrupt and/or negligent bums in office who haven't already been arrested by federal and state investigators?

So what if Ilene Lieberman got immunity from prosecution by the state -- she's part of a self-serving political cult of corruption, right?  

Can we get rid of her ourselves?

Sure. But the road to recall is a long and difficult one -- and, without the aid of a billionaire, it can seem impossible. And the last time I looked, Wayne Huizenga was on the other side of the equation when it came to corrupt politicians. That guy loves them -- and has helped make a number of them.

When thinking of recall candidates, let's forget Lieberman. She's already toast, debilitated by the current scandal, and with just two years left on her term (she should be term-limited in 2012, and depending on how the appellate court rules on John Rodstrom's lawsuit, she may be yet).

A lot of folks are talking about recalling Rick Scott. Sorry, state politicians, incredibly, don't fall under Florida recall laws. There is legislation being proposed now to change that, but I seriously doubt they'll pass considering who is in office.

So let's look at the worst politicians remaining in office in Broward County. Obviously all the veteran School Board members are viable candidates, those being Maureen Dinnen, Jennifer Gottlieb, Ann Murray, Ben Williams, and Robin Bartleman.

But as long as we're talking about it, let's go to rock bottom: Stacy Ritter.

How exactly would you go about kicking Ritter's arrogant Spanx-clad butt out of office? Well, first you have to

come up with legal grounds to do it. In a recall, you can't just say you're doing it because you don't like a politician. You have to come up with a legally sufficient reason to do it that must be endorsed by a judge. Those grounds include "malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, and conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude."

Again the grand jury report alone provides the fodder to qualify the School Board members. In Ritter's case, there's obviously a wealth of malfeasance from which to choose. The wild misspending in the 2008 campaign by Ritter and her lobbyist-husband, Russ Klenet, would do the trick easily, especially since the state has already filed civil charges against her. A judge would likely find that her acceptance of the golf cart from dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait would suffice. Other conflicts of interest with Klenet -- the shenanigans with airport manager URS and his then-firm's representation of Vista Health -- would probably do in a pinch as well. There's also the scandal involving Ponzi schemer Joel Steinger.

You can bundle this up in a bow; no judge could justify throwing out a well-formed argument against Ritter. Now comes the first really hard part: Getting the signatures.

Ritter's District 3 is up in northwestern Broward, with parts of Coral Springs, Parkland, Sunrise, and the dastardly Tamarac. I'm not sure of the exact number of registered voters in District 3, but I'm going to take an educated guess that it's somewhere around 120,000, give or take 15,000 or so.

With that size of a voter pool, state law says you need to get signatures from 5 percent of registered voters, meaning that in Ritter's case, you would have to get roughly 6,000 (give or take a thousand). And you've got 30 days to do it, an average of 200 a day.  

Anybody who has tried it knows that would be no small feat, even with a willing populace. You need numerous volunteers, and they have to be willing to stand outside supermarkets and go everywhere else there are large numbers of people gathered and hustle while they are at it.

Even if you are successful at that and the signatures are approved by the supervisor of elections, you then need to go back and get a second set of signatures. The second time around, you need to get 15 percent of the registered voters. In Ritter's case, about 18,000.   

This is why organization -- plus public outrage, as you had with Mayor Carlos Alvarez and the one-sided Marlins stadium deal -- is crucial. You almost have to have a situation where people are running to you to sign the recall petition.

In the case of Ritter, you will have some of that outrage. A well-run organization, with a whole lot of hard work, could likely get the signatures. But then comes the election itself.

Ritter would likely raise a whole lot of money from the special interests that she's pandered to -- lobbyists, contractors, her husband's clients, etc. 

But would that money matter?

Seijas in Miami raised more than $200,000 in a PAC to fight the recall. The recall backers came up with about $20,000. It didn't matter -- voters still ousted Seijas with a stunning 88 percent against her. Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, who helped lead the recall effort, had this quote in today's newspaper: "Natacha Seijas is a poster child for everything that is wrong with Miami-Dade County government, a government that is out of touch with taxpayers and has sold out to special interests."

Replace "Natacha Seijas" with "Stacy Ritter" and you could envision the same quote coming the day after a Broward recall election.

In the case of Ritter, I would strongly believe the vote would be closer. But as her many transgressions are debated across the district, I doubt her fractured condo base would protect her from recall. One of her great political allies in the condos, Marc Sultanof, is one of those who has been arrested on charges of corruption, after all.

So could Ritter be successfully recalled? The answer is yes. Does anyone out there have the wherewithal to put together the machine necessary to gather those signatures and run a campaign? There, again, is the rub. 

Hopefully, the State Attorney's Office -- which is targeting Ritter in the corruption probe -- will accomplish the task soon without having to rely on the people to get it done.

But if it doesn't, a recall drive might be just the right medicine for Broward as it has been in Miami-Dade.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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