By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Recall campaigns to remove Norfolk’s City Treasurer and the Mayor of Portsmouth are nearing the end of their respective stages of operation according to leaders of both efforts. Organizers of the effort to recall Mayor Kenneth Wright of Portsmouth said they have the 7,788 signatures they need, in accordance with the city charter. But the group is working to vet all of the signatures before they are submitted to the courts.
In Norfolk the leaders of the effort to remove Norfolk City Treasurer Anthony Burfoot from office, said the Norfolk Registrar’s office is closing in on verifying the 4,353 signatures needed to order a trial to determine if Burnout is fit to remain in power. Robert Marcus, who is spearheading the effort in Portsmouth, said that his operation has secured more than the required number of signatures to compensate for those which may not be valid.
He said there may be signatures of people who have died, left the city or may have signed a petition, but did not live in the city. In all three cases their signatures will be disqualified. John Hill is one of the leaders of the efforts to recall Burfoot. He said his group turned in over 5,700 signatures to the Norfolk’s Registrar’s office over a month ago to allow officials to determine if their recall effort has met its goal.
Hill said, as of May 24, the Norfolk Registrar’s office has cleared 3,516 of the 4,353 signatures needed. Hill said the signature verification process has been slowed because the Norfolk Registrar’s office has been involved in the May municipal elections and the upcoming June 14 primary race to determine the nominees to run for the 4th Congressional District. “Each day the number will change and increase,” said Hill.
“It’s a slow process, but we think we will reach our goals shortly.” The move to recall Burfoot is based on his allegedly, accepting money and gifts from the owners of the Tivest Development Company, Curtis and Dwight Etheridge. Burfoot, who also served as Norfolk’s vice mayor for a time, was charged with allegedly receiving over $475,000 in kickbacks and bribes between 2005 and early 2011 while he represented Norfolk’s Ward 3.
His trial was temporary postponed. It was supposed to begin May 3, but Burfoot’s attorney, Andrew Sacks pleaded to have the trial delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its decision on an appeal of bribery charges surrounding the case of former Governor Robert McDonnell. The Supreme Court may hand down its decision as it ends its 2015 session later this month. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled in 2015 that the ex-Republican Governor’s trial was fair, but the high court agreed to hear the appeal.
Burfoot’s legal team says his case and the former governor’s are akin under the honest-services wire fraud statutes and the Hobbs Act about the correct legal definition of an “official action” in return for gifts. In Portsmouth, Marcus said the mayoral recall effort is based on the citizens losing “confidence” in the mayor’s leadership. He said the work to acquire the signatures to get a recall on the ballot began Memorial Day weekend 2015.
While the Norfolk recall effort is using the state recall statute, in Portsmouth, the rules in the city charter are being applied. A referendum will be used to allow Portsmouth voters to determine if they do or do not have confidence in Mayor Wright’s leadership. In Norfolk, a Circuit Court judge will hear a trial in Burfoot’s case. According to Hill, the judge will determine if the Treasurer has destroyed the trust of Norfolk voters to the point where he must be removed from office because of the indictment handed earlier this year.
Hill said that his recall group will ask for a judge outside the Norfolk Judiciary system to hear the case against Burnout. “Based on the extensive investigation of the FBI and what we have seen in the indictment against Burfoot, we will proceed with our recall regardless of what is the outcome in the courts,” said Hill. “We are not looking at guilt or innocence, but his breach of public trust which is evident.”