Opponents of Mahwah Mayor William Laforet said Wednesday that they have obtained enough verified signatures to move a recall effort forward.
"Today the recall election official has informed us that she has completed the verification of the recall petition and determined that a sufficient number of signatures are valid," organizer Melanie Sue told Daily Voice. "This will prompt the recall process to continue to the next steps.
"We're hopeful that the mayor can set his ego aside and recognize that more than 5,000 Mahwah residents want the opportunity to vote him out of office," Sue said. "He received approximately 3,700 votes in the last election, so I would hope that he listens to the numbers carefully when choosing his next path.
"The wise choice would be to resign and save the township from a bitter and destructive campaign. This town has been through enough."
In response, Laforet told Daily Voice:
"My plans are to prevail. I have retained Angelo Genova, of Genova & Burns and fully expect a robust action on behalf of the good people of our community.
"Township voters like living in a town where as mayor I fashioned two triple A bond ratings that is rare in N.J., have one of the lowest property taxes in Bergen County, lower than most communities and where we are certifiably the safest community around.
"I’m sorry that the petty council politics is costing Mahwah taxpayers [and] is frittering away in excess of a half of a million dollars in legal fees to date. A direct result of violating the Civil Rights of human beings when they were told to not proceed."
The mayor has blamed the Township Council for trying to prevent a group of Orthodox Jews from neighboring New York from constructing a religious boundary known as an eruv in town or from using public parks.
State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against the township.
Sue launched the recall effort amid intense acrimony over state charges of discrimination and nasty political bickering in Mahwah.
A group of volunteers gathered and delivered 5,000 signatures – more than 800 more than they needed -- seeking a November vote to recall Laforet.
Sue said the recall was initiated mostly to honor the legacy of deceased DPW Director Ed Sinclair.
Laforet suspended Sinclair from his post after claiming that child pornography was found on his computer four years ago.
Even though two separate investigations found the accusation false, the mayor kept his political opponent suspended before the Council reinstated him.
A few months later, Sinclair died suddenly of a heart attack. His widow, in turn, filed a wrongful death lawsuit, contending the stress caused by Laforet contributed to her husband's death.
Township Clerk Kathrine Coviello certified at least 4,170 of the recall petition's signatures -- 25% of Mahwah's registered voters.
Laforet can go to court to try and block it or let it proceed.
A candidate who defeats Laforet in a recall election would then immediately take office, once the county Board of Elections has certified the results.
Laforet dodged a recall effort in 2015 after a group failed to get the necessary amount of signatures. He was re-elected to a second term a year later
It is the second effort in three years to recall Laforet. The previous attempt failed in 2015 when volunteers were unable to generate the necessary number of signatures to place the question on the ballot and win signature certification by the August filing deadline.
Laforet was subsequently re-elected to his second four-year term in 2016 with less than 38% of the vote, topping second-place finisher John Roth by fewer than 100 votes.
"As the campaign organizer, I would like to thank all those who volunteered to help make this happen and worked diligently to see that it was done the right way," Sue said Wednesday. "This effort was launched by average citizens who worked day and night to see that Mahwah might obtain better leadership. And we are on track to seeing that happen."
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