McFeely: Piepkorn opponents need to abandon recall
FARGO—The group trying to recall Dave Piepkorn is making a mistake, perhaps one that could greatly help the Fargo city commissioner instead of hurting him. It should find a way to quietly end the effort and instead focus on 2018, when it's expected Piepkorn will make a run for mayor.
A group of well-meaning if naive citizens is upset Piepkorn is pushing to find out the "real" costs of refugee resettlement in Fargo and has declared a de facto war on Lutheran Social Services, the agency responsible for placing local refugees here.
A sponsoring committee is in the process of gathering the needed 3,500 signatures before May 12, with the hope of having a special election in June. Members hope to unseat Piepkorn, they say, because his "ongoing attack of the refugee population in Fargo is wrong-headed, short-sighted, divisive and dangerous."
You won't find an argument on those points here, but here's the truth: The idea of asking for a study is not worthy of a recall. Piepkorn hasn't done anything, hasn't accomplished anything, other than ask questions and get huffy when he doesn't get the answers he wants. He's lied when talking about LSS, but politicians have been known to do that.
A recall is exactly the wrong way to confront Piepkorn. A most basic reason is this: He's going to win the recall election, likely by a large margin.
It's just basic politics, which Piepkorn's opponents apparently have not taken into account. Hammering refugees and demonizing LSS is easy politics in Donald Trump's America. It's low-hanging fruit, unfortunately. Piepkorn might actually care about the cost to taxpayers, but he knows what he's doing is good for getting headlines and building a base of supporters. Cynical, yes. But, hey, it's politics.
Piepkorn is no dummy, and he probably has a campaign organization already in place with a solid chunk of money on hand. He's backed by experienced Republican politicos. There's a good probability people from around the state, maybe the country, are sending him checks with notes saying something like, "Keep fightin' them Muslims, Dave! You're making America Great Again!" It matters not that such people might be abhorrent. Their money spends.
With a head-start, name recognition and money—and a low-turnout summer election—Piepkorn might get 65 or 70 percent of the vote.
When that happens, a recall election meant to damage Piepkorn instead empowers him—it allows him to say, "See? I've been right all along!" It also emboldens the actual racists and xenophobes in Fargo and elsewhere, who might now believe they have a mandate to be vocal and divisive about their hatred for refugees and immigrants. We've seen some of that with the Trump's election to the presidency. Things could get really ugly in our little community.
Here's what the recall committee should do instead:
Have a representative meet with Piepkorn and try to find common ground, a few points on which both sides can agree. That way both sides can say they "won" something. Then make an announcement that the committee decided to withdraw the recall petitions and is willing to work with Piepkorn to find some answers to his questions, because that benefits the community.
When 2018 arrives and Piepkorn announces either a run for reelection or his candidacy for mayor, the committee should support his opponent who best represents its interests. Or it could recruit its own candidate. Door-knock, fundraise, campaign. Do everything to make sure Piepkorn doesn't win his election.
If that's successful, Piepkorn is off the City Commission. Finished. That's the committee's best hope. Holding a recall election is no hope at all. Worse, the recall supporters might push Piepkorn to more popularity and a victory for him in 2018.
Mayor Piepkorn. How does that sound, committee members?