James Hightower recall, Benton Harbor, Michigan (2014)
An effort to recall Mayor James Hightower in Benton Harbor, Michigan from his position was launched in October 2013. Supporters of the recall effort cited Hightower's failure to vote in favor of putting the city income tax proposal on the ballot as the reason for the recall.
The effort was led by James Cornelius and backed by Benton Township activist Ed Pinkney's group BANCO.
The recall election was initially scheduled for November 4 following a judicial order but was overturned by the Court of Appeals. Petitioners filed an appeal to keep the recall date, but the Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Path to the ballot
- See also: Laws governing recall in Michigan
Petitions were filed October 23, 2013 and a clarity hearing was scheduled for November 6, 2013. The petition language was approved on November 13.
Recall supporters needed to collect signatures equal to 25 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election -- in this case, 393 signatures. Additionally, signatures were required to be collected over a period of 60 days.
In early January 2014, recall supporters submitted a petition with over 700 signatures. In early February 2014, the county clerk confirmed that 402 had been verified, above the 393 required. A special election for the recall will be held on May 6, 2014.
On February 19, 2014, Benton Harbor Commissioner Marcus Muhammad announced that he would challenge Hightower in the May 6 recall election.
Prior to 2012, recall elections took place in two phases -- one to approve or deny the recall, and another to select a replacement (if needed). Following the passage of new rules in 2012, voters will now only be asked to select their preferred candidate (including, if applicable, the targeted official).
Hightower's campaign confirmed in April that there would be no debate between Hightower and challenger Muhammad.
In late April 2014, two Benton Harbor residents involved in the recall effort were accused of elections fraud. Edward Pinkney was charged with five counts of elections forgery and six counts of a lesser offense (namely, allowing one person to sign recall petitions more than once). James Cornelius was charged with one count of permitting one person to sign recall petitions more than once and allowing signers to sign petitions outside of his presence. In light of these allegations, County Clerk Sharon Tyler sought a court order requesting a stay of the election. On May 1, 2014, Berrien County Trial Court Judge John Dewane granted the injunction delaying the recall election. A trial determining the ultimate fate of the recall effort began in mid-July 2014; jury selection started on July 17, 2014.
A judicial order issued on August 12, 2014, set the recall election for November 4. A Court of Appeals ruling overturned this order. Recall supporters are attempted to appeal that ruling before the Michigan Supreme Court, but the court refused to hear the case.
Pinkney said on May 19, 2014 that he had filed formal complaints with the local prosecutor and the Department of Justice against Hightower. Pinkney alleged that Hightower "manufactured evidence to stop the recall election." "His only desire was to stop the election. They had no intention of allowing that election to go through. They had to figure out a way to do it and they used this," Pinkney said. Hightower denied Pinkney's allegations. Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic declined to file charges against Hightower, saying that he had found no evidence of "force or intimidation by the mayor."
Pinkney was sentenced to prison in 1997 for five counts of voter fraud. In addition, he has been convicted of theft, assault with a dangerous weapon and embezzlement.
Hightower was previously the target of a different recall effort in 2012. That effort was led by Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles. Knowles, however, failed to collect sufficient signatures for the effort to proceed.
- Recall campaigns in Michigan
- Political recall efforts, 2014
- Mayoral recalls
- James Hightower recall, Benton Harbor, Michigan (2012) (did not go to a vote)
- WSJM, "Hightower Again A Recall Target," October 24, 2013
- Information submitted to Ballotpedia by John Anthony La Pietra on September 4.
- The Herald Palladium, "Judge: Recall election is back on," August 13, 2014
- WNDU, "Michigan Supreme Court refuses case involving Benton Harbor recall election," September 18, 2014
- Benton Spirit News, "Petition Language OK'd For Mayor Hightower Recall," November 14, 2013
- WNDU.com, "Petition filed to recall Benton Harbor's mayor," January 13, 2014
- ABC 57 News, "Mayor faces possible recall, election to be held in May," February 12, 2014
- WSBT 22, "Benton Harbor mayor to face recall election," February 11, 2014
- Fox28, "Benton Harbor commissioner announces his candidacy for mayor," February 19, 2014
- WNDU.com, "Benton Harbor recall ballot causes confusion," March 26, 2014
- WSJM.com, "Recall Ballots Change; Confusion Possible on May 6," March 25, 2014
- WSJM.com, "Hightower's Campaign: No Recall Election Debate," April 16, 2014
- South Bend Tribune, "Stay sought of Benton Harbor recall vote," April 25, 2014
- WSJM, "Benton Harbor Mayor Confident Of Win Regardless of Recall Election Date," April 29, 2014
- South Bend Tribune, "BH recall vote on hold," May 1, 2014
- WSBT.com, "No recall election in Benton Harbor," May 1, 2014
- WSBT22, "Benton Harbor social activist headed to trial for election fraud," June 5, 2014
- ABC 57, "Pinkney accuses mayor of manufacturing evidence," May 19, 2014
- WSJM, "Prosecutor Clears Mayor Hightower of Accusations by Activist, Convicted Felon," May 30, 2014
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