Rivera recall effort to move forward
Residents petitioning to recall Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera say they have at least 2,971 signatures — about 200 more signatures than required.
Russell Biggs, a lead organizer for the recall effort, said an independent professional signature verification service confirmed the numbers Wednesday, Jan. 6, and more signatures were considered “soft matches.”
“We have met the legal threshold and are waiting now for the clerk’s office to confirm what we already know,” Biggs said in an email.
On November 5, the Anchorage clerk’s office partially approved the petition to recall Rivera, who represents District 4, including Midtown Anchorage. Signatures were due back to the city clerk Tuesday, January 12, and has 10 days to verify them. If the signatures are verified, the petition moves to the assembly to put the vote on the ballot — either during a regular election or special election. The next regular city election is April 6.
The recall petition alleges Rivera violated a special city emergency order prohibiting indoor gatherings of 15 or more people, which was implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 within the city. The statement on the grounds of the recall claims Rivera, the assembly’s chair, knowingly participated in an indoor gathering of more than 15 people during an August Anchorage Assembly meeting — which was not halted after another assembly member brought it to Rivera’s attention. The statement also alleged Rivera committed misconduct in office, but that claim was rejected by the clerk’s office. Petitioners believe Rivera had the responsibility to enforce the city’s emergency order on gatherings.
“This meeting was being observed by hundreds of people online, and many of those people were unable to work because of the emergency mandates’ gathering limitations having closed much of the hospitality business,” Biggs said. “It was a stunningly callous and irresponsible decision for the Assembly to violate the order so publicly when many people were losing their jobs, or worse, as a result of their businesses trying to abide by the same rules.”
The news of the recall took Rivera by surprise. “My initial thinking was, ‘Really, this is why you’re trying to recall me?’ This is so frivolous,” he said.
“(Recalls) are contentious,” Rivera continued. “They get nasty — full of lies, mudslinging. Since then, I’ve been focused on doing my job and doing the best I can to represent my constituents and do the best I can for Anchorage.” He said having to go through a recall effort is “not anything that I would wish on my worst enemy.”
Thomas Amodio, an attorney with Anchorage law firm Reeves Amodio, is representing a group known as the Midtown Citizens Coalition — who want to see the recall petition voided. The coalition has filed a lawsuit against the Municipality of Anchorage and Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones for approving the recall petition, which Amodio said “is not a lawful use of the recall power.”
“We asked the court to void the recall petition because there’s no lawful basis for it,” Amodio said. “In a nutshell, it’s a matter of discretion of the assembly as a whole, and the discretion of the chair, which was Assembly member Rivera at the time. Using discretion cannot be a basis for recall. If you try to recall someone because they voted a certain way — well, that’s their job.”
Biggs said the lawsuit is undermining a valid recall petition, and a “slap in the face to their constituents.”
“The recall is not about having a couple of extra people in the room,” Biggs said. “It’s about knowingly violating a law that the assembly itself was enforcing on the whole of Anchorage, under the stated reasons of attempting to stop the spread of a deadly disease. And yet, the assembly showed by its actions they really think the law did not apply to them when it was inconvenient.”
Biggs said Rivera has lost the public’s trust because of the violation, and because of how $50 million in COVID-19 relief funds have been spent.
“The result is now assembly meetings that are completely derailed by protests and outbursts against him and his behavior,” Biggs said.
The recall effort is a “political hack job,” Rivera said, with the goal of eventually removing a majority of assembly members.
“These are people who don’t like the majority of us on the assembly right now,” Rivera said. “They call us the progressive majority. Some of us are called communists. Some call us socialists. Whatever they want to call us, they don’t like the current majority on the assembly politically and they want to replace us with conservatives. That is what they want. They don’t like any of the decisions we’ve made.”
Rivera said he wants to understand why the group doesn’t seek to remove him from office through the regular election process. “Why are they doing this via a frivolous recall effort?” he said.