Good Government

Ray Carter | September 15, 2020

Recall effort highlights Norman mayor’s unpopularity

Ray Carter

Citizen efforts to force a recall election of Norman Mayor Breea Clark have fallen short, yet the recall effort also showed broad public displeasure with Clark’s performance. The number of citizens who supported Clark’s ouster was 153-percent greater than the number of citizens who voted to elect Clark mayor in 2019.

Clark has become one of Oklahoma’s most high-profile mayors, and one of the most controversial. Regulations imposed by Clark and other city officials in response to COVID-19 have been among the most far-reaching in the state.

Among other things, Clark issued a “stay at home” order in April that required Norman citizens to restrict shopping to odd or even days, based on a citizen’s home address. Those caught shopping on the wrong day faced a fine of $750 and 60 days in jail per violation.

Clark’s order also forced the shutdown of a waste-disposal company, despite such businesses being declared “essential” by federal authorities.

In May, Clark drew a rebuke from Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter after she allowed gyms, tattoo parlors, and pet groomers to reopen but forbade churches from doing the same. Hunter noted that “both state and federal law limit the mayor’s authority to restrict the free exercise of religion and for peaceable assembly.”

In addition, four hair salon owners successfully sued to force Clark to include their businesses in the initial May 1 wave of business reopenings.

Clark has also supported an effort to partially defund Norman police, and participated in a June 1 Black Lives Matter protest that appeared to violate Clark’s own COVID-19 order restricting large-group gatherings.

In Phase 2 of Clark’s “Healthier at Home Initiative,” Norman residents were expected to “maximize physical distance from others when in public” and “avoid socializing in groups of more than 25 people.” Citizens who failed to comply with that order could face fines of up to $750 and 60 days in jail per violation.

Clark’s Twitter account included photos from the June 1 protest showing at least 17 people were present, and those photos primarily showed individuals gathered on a park stage, not audience members. A photo that ran in the Norman Transcript showed a similar number of audience members, indicating total attendees at the protest exceeded the limit imposed by Clark’s order. The paper also reported that “hundreds of local residents gathered” at the protest.

In July, citizen group Unite Norman filed five recall petitions to remove Clark and four city council members in response to acts taken by the city officials, including the efforts to defund local police and the COVID-19 restrictions that critics said were wildly excessive. On the group’s website, Unite Norman said Clark and other city officials had “exhibited some of the most divisive and embarrassing behavior that Norman has ever witnessed.”

To force a recall election for Clark, Unite Norman needed to collect signatures from 25 percent of registered Norman voters, or 18,154 total signatures. The group collected 20,661 signatures, but roughly 3,600 signatures were declared invalid for various reasons, leaving the collection effort a little over 1,000 signatures short of its goal.

But the roughly 17,000 signatures gathered for Clark’s recall far exceeded the number of votes cast to elect her mayor in February 2019. In that year’s Norman mayoral election, Clark received 6,719 votes out of 13,068 cast in a three-candidate race.

After the recall-election effort was deemed to have fallen short, Clark posted on Facebook that she was “glad this process is over.”

“At this crucial time, I want to encourage our residents to move past the divisiveness and focus on working together to create a better future for our city,” Clark said.

Some posters who responded to Clark’s statement said the mayor should take seriously the public disapproval demonstrated by the recall effort.

“This wasn’t a win, this was a warning,” wrote Raven Crowl. “20K+ citizens signed to send you a clear message. Quiet your massive ego and listen to the people you represent.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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