St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune has long provoked passionate responses from both his admirers and detractors. He drew the ire of bar owners by championing a smoking ban (despite his own long-standing nicotine jones) and initially opposed expanding liquor-license hours during the Republican National Convention for fear of puking GOP lobbyists. Thune further annoyed some residents by participating in protests during the RNC.
So it’s no surprise that some residents might be interested in booting the liberal Democrat from office. Rumors of a recall petition have been circulating since shortly after the RNC. And on Thursday evening Thune’s supporters will hold a fundraiser for the city council member, despite any re-election contest being two years away.
“Because of my strong advocacy of free speech during the Republican National Convention and authorship of St. Paul’s smoking ban, a number of individuals have initiated procedures to recall me from office in a special election,” Thune wrote in an email to supporters recently. “Because signatures can be gathered citywide, this is a very real threat — one we can’t ignore.”
But what evidence is there that any such threat exists? According to St. Paul City Clerk Shari Moore, the city received a couple of inquiries shortly after the RNC about the possibility of recalling Thune from office. “I haven’t heard anything since then,” Moore says. “I haven’t heard if there’s a petition out there anywhere.”
Thune is similarly uncertain about the actual existence of a recall movement. “We’re just doing like a peremptory rally and fundraiser,” he says. “If anything we’d love to sort of squelch this thing before it starts.”
Speculation about who might be spearheading such a drive has focused on Mike Costello, owner of Costello’s Bar & Grill and a longtime Thune antagonist. The pair most recently tussled over an off-color email the city council member sent to Costello during the RNC. The bar owner feigned shock at the crude language and called on Thune to resign. “I don’t want to accuse him,” says Thune. “But I’m pretty good at adding two and two.”
(A message left for Costello at his bar was not immediately returned.)
So what would it take to recall Thune from office — if such a campaign actually exists? Under the city’s charter, resident signatures equivalent to 20 percent of the electorate in the last municipal contest would need to be collected. In the 2006 mayoral election, 59,509 people cast ballots. So 11,902 residents would need to sign a petition in order for it move forward. If the city council then certified the petition drive as meeting this threshold, a special election would then be called within 60 days to determine Thune’s fate. The odds of this happening? Exceedingly slim.
(This wouldn’t be the only recall drive in recent St. Paul political history. Anyone remember the Duddingston brothers and the “Recall Randy” movement?)
Which means 2010 will likely be the next chance for Thune’s foes to boot him from office. But the city council member maintains that he hasn’t yet decided whether to run for re-election. “I always take things a year at a time,” Thune says.