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Critics of Ferguson mayor fall 27 signatures short of triggering recall

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III meets the press on Wednesday. He announced Police Chief Tom Jackson was stepping aside.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III may have escaped an effort to recall him from office.

An effort to recall Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III appears to have narrowly fallen short.

St. Louis Board of Elections Democratic director Eric Fey told St. Louis Public Radio that critics of the mayor had gathered 1,787 valid signatures – which was 27 short of the 1,814 needed amount to trigger a recall. Petitioners were given additional time to gather signatures after initially submitting too few.But Fey said some signatures from the latest round of petitioning were invalid for a number of reasons. He said 184 people who signed weren’t registered to vote, 92 didn’t live in Ferguson and 93 had signed multiple times.

“As a matter of fact, there was one person who signed it four times,” Fey said.

The final certificate detailing the results will be presented to the City Council. The Ferguson City Charter says the “certificate shall then be a final determination as to the sufficiency of the petition.”

“My goal has always been to focus on bringing this community together, building trust, and moving us forward as one community,” said Knowles in a statement. “If one person signed the recall petition, it sends a strong message to me that there is still plenty of work to do. I am committed to working with all parties to make our community a better place to live, for everyone.”

Tony Rice, one of the people involved in the recall effort, said the duplicate signatures proved to be a major barrier in gathering enough signatures to trigger a recall.

“It was those duplicates that were really taking us out,” Rice said. “And evidently with 93 of those duplicates, that really hurt. That was probably the 100 where we would fall short of. And if we would have made up the duplicates, it would have been clear. It would have been real easy.”

“It was just too arduous of work to find those duplicates,” he added.

But Rice said supporters of the recall effort plan to challenge the result of the signature count. Petitioners had to gather 15 percent of the amount of Ferguson’s registered voters when Knowles was elected – which was 12,096.

Rice said that petitioners should have had to gather fewer signatures, because he contended the 12,096 registered voters included people who were inactive.

“I think that is more than a valiant fight that we put up and the fight is not over,” Rice said.

Ferguson spokesman Jeff Small said in an e-mail that it is the city’s opinion “there is no challenge that would have merit.” And in responding to Rice's contention, Fey said on Twitter that "the 12,096 number only includes active registered voters."

Knowles was elected to his second term as mayor without opposition last year. He was thrust into the national spotlight after a former Ferguson police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Like other Ferguson officials, Knowles was roundly criticized for his response to Brown’s shooting death. But he has repeatedly said he wouldn’t resign from office. That prompted the recall effort.

Ferguson’s mayor has little formal power and is for all intents and purposes an at-large council member. But in many respects, he appears to be in a fairly strong position after “protest” candidates failed to secure open seats on Ferguson's City Council earlier this year.

Ferguson’s city council is wrestling with a depleted budget and could make a decision soon about whether to enter into a consent decree with the federal government. That could potentially cost the increasingly cash-strapped city millions of dollars.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.