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Councilman Survives Recall; Foes Blame Low Turnout for Loss : Politics: 'You can beat City Hall,' John O. Robertson Jr. says after winning the vote that had been orchestrated by his colleagues.

March 18, 1993|JILL GOTTESMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CUDAHY — Veteran City Councilman John O. Robertson Jr. will keep his council seat, surviving a recall effort orchestrated by his four council colleagues.

With 37 absentee and provisional ballots uncounted, Robertson received 268 votes of support, while 201 residents voted to oust him.

Despite a last-minute mailer from Robertson and a few campaign signs that cropped up during the final week before the election, only 17% of the city's 3,000 registered voters cast ballots--the lowest turnout in Cudahy history, according to City Manager Jack M. Joseph.

In fact, the total turnout fell short of the 700 registered voters who signed petitions last fall to force the first recall election in the history of this tiny city.

"There just wasn't any interest in the issue," Joseph said after the city's two polling places closed Tuesday night. "People became more confused about who was right and who was wrong on the council."

The low turnout disappointed one of the recall organizers, Councilman Alex F. Rodriguez, who said he walked door-to-door throughout the city over the weekend, drumming up support to oust Robertson.

"You just can't tell who will come out to vote, even if they say they will," he said, shaking his head. "I thought at least people who signed the petition would show."

A handful of residents--all Robertson supporters--arrived at City Hall after the polls closed, waiting for the votes to be tallied. They cheered when the final tabulations were written on a blackboard by the assistant city manager, Nicholas Mull.

"He is the best councilman, and he deserves to stay," longtime resident Georgia Scrivner said as she clapped her hands. "He is just wonderful."

*

The 53-year-old Robertson spent most of the evening nervously scribbling on a legal pad, while his council foes--Rodriguez, David M. Silva, Jack Cluck and Joseph Graffio--camped out in a back room.

"I guess this shows that you can beat City Hall," Robertson said after the results were posted. "And it shows that (the other council members) have a total lack of fiscal responsibility."

The recall election cost the city about $12,000, officials said. "Enough is enough," Robertson said. "We just can't afford this kind of waste in Cudahy. We don't have the money." The recall effort against Robertson began last fall when two of his four council colleagues--Cluck and Graffio--discovered they were the targets of a recall, which they believed had been launched by Robertson. The recall effort against Cluck and Graffio fizzled from lack of support.

Although Robertson hotly denied that he was involved in that effort, he suddenly found himself a recall target, accused of undermining the council's work.

"He votes against everything we want to do," Cluck explained when the recall kicked off six months ago. Other councilmen complained bitterly that Robertson, who has been on the council for 17 years, is too contentious and too critical, both of them and of city staff.

Although the recall effort against Robertson failed, some of the councilmen said Tuesday night that they hope Robertson will change his ways.

"This (recall election) might shake him up, and things will get better," Rodriguez said. "He will have to work harder now that people know what kind of a man he is."

Silva, the newest member of the council, said he hopes the city can move on now. "We did what we had to do, but the voters spoke," a subdued Silva said after the votes were counted. "We just want the best for the city."

But Robertson said he has no intention of changing his style and that he "wasn't elected to go along with the majority." In fact, he said, he hopes the final results will influence the other four council members. "Maybe now that they have seen the support I have, their behavior will change," he said. "But mine will not."

Robertson said he will continue to vote against costly council and staff excursions to League of Cities meetings and conferences around the country, the biggest issue of contention among the council members.

EDITION-TIME ELECTION RETURNS

Some late and absentee ballots are still to be counted, but they will not alter the outcome.

CUDAHY

Should City Councilman John O. Robertson be recalled?

2 of 2 Precincts Reporting

MEASURE VOTE % No 268 57 Yes 201 43

If recalled, how should a successor be chosen?

MEASURE VOTE % Special election 354 83 Council appointment 72 17

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