Judge stays Benton Harbor's mayoral recall election
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- The mayoral recall election in Benton Harbor will not be held on May 6 as scheduled. Berrien County Judge John E. Dewane stayed the election until further hearing and order of the court.
Reverend Edward Pinkney collected a large number of the signatures on the petition to recall Mayor James Hightower.
Pinkney was arrested and charged with election fraud related to the petitions.
He is accused of changing dates on some of the signatures and allowing people to sign more than once on five occasions.
When making his ruling, the judge examined the signatures on the petition.
According to law, the clerk cannot count any signatures collected more than 60 days prior to the filing of the petition.
In his ruling, Dewane cited signatures on page 38. He said it appeared as though there were altered dates and that at least 11 of the signatures likely were signed on November 8, 2013, not November 18 or 28.
The judge said had the clerk "not been deceived," she would not have counted the 11 questioned signatures.
If those 11 signatures were disqualified, that would leave the petitions with 391 signatures, which is two short of the required 393.
The judge also stated that not granting the injunction would cause significant harm to the clerk's duty to preserve the integrity of the election process.
That means Hightower will remain the mayor of Benton Harbor - at least for now.
He held a press conference Thursday afternoon.
"I'm confident that we would have won the election anyway. But knowing the circumstances, seeing those petitions, doing the challenges, I knew that there was no judge in the land that would allow this election to take place," said Hightower.
Andrea Wooden of Benton Harbor is glad the recall election has been put on hold.
"I think that we need to give him a chance at least to complete his term to do the changes he can have done but it's just kind of rude to cut him short," said Wooden. "If the community really wanted him to recall then everything would have been on the up and up."
Unfortunately for the people of Benton Harbor, their tax dollars have already been spent in election preparations.
"Money has been spent. I think there was $1200 spent on ballots alone. It was an estimated cost of upwards of $8,000," said Hightower.
Wooden believes her city is in good hands with Mayor Hightower and she hopes to see Benton Harbor, a city clouded by financial trouble for years, continue to move in the right direction.
"I would like to see it thriving and more organized," said Wooden.
We contacted Reverend Pinkney for comment. He said his attorney asked him not to go on camera but said he is still calling for County Clerk Sharon Tyler to resign.
Marcus Muhammad, who was running in the mayoral election, submitted the following statement:
I respect the Opinion and Order of the Honorable John E. Dewane of the Berrien County Trial Court-Civil Division placing a temporary injunction on the May 6, 2014 Mayoral recall election.
Despite the prevailing circumstances I am encouraged and eventually the people will have their day at the ballot box. Although, the election has been temporarily suspended my campaign continues.
I would like to thank the residents for their prayers and overwhelming support in my effort to become the next Mayor of the City of Benton Harbor.