McFeely: Pointless Piepkorn recall push was just misplaced, amateurish anger
FARGO—Amateur Hour is over, thankfully. The angry mob behind recalling Fargo City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn has put away the pitchforks and torches, for now, having failed to accomplish anything other than being angry and making enemies everywhere.
Oh, and they managed to turn Piepkorn into a sympathetic figure who likely stands a better chance at re-election next year than he did before the recall petition began.
Other than that, though, it was a heck of an effort.
The committee to recall Piepkorn sent out a press release Friday, May 12, saying it was calling off the dogs, but didn't give a specific reason. Instead, it blamed Piepkorn for threatening to obtain a list of all the people who signed the petition (which anybody's legal right, even if it's more than a little Nixonian if Piepkorn wanted to do it) and said "we did not attain a recall."
The truth is, the committee did not get enough signatures to be confident the petition would be approved. Andrew Lenzmeier, the committee spokesman, said in an interview it gathered more than the needed 3,504 but fell too far short of its goal of 4,000 to have a safe cushion once some signatures were thrown out.
The rest of the release was so much self-serving bunk, eye roll-worthy stuff about how the recall committee stood up to a bully and started a "vital conversation" while everybody else sat back and trembled in fear of Piepkorn. So heroic. And completely untrue. Many others in Fargo-Moorhead called out Piepkorn for his fear-mongering, including other city commissioners.
If the obituary to the recall was oblivious to reality, that only kept it consistent with the rest of the campaign. The committee and its volunteers—people like Zac Echola, Ruth Buffalo and Erin Buzick—were fueled by anger and emotion from the beginning and never evolved beyond that.
They had no political instincts. They failed to recognize that Piepkorn was pulling a stunt that, while offensive to many, actually gained him favor with a large number of citizens. Is that unfortunate and distasteful? Yes. But it's also politics, appealing to one's "base." Is it illegal, corrupt or incompetent and therefore worthy of recall? No. There was never a groundswell against Piepkorn, just a handful of shrill and angry voices gathering in downtown Fargo to be shrill and angry. It was a lot of big talk with no organization or ground game to back it up. That's the blueprint of Bernie Sanders supporters.
And the anger. The seething anger. Every time somebody would offer advice or some political savvy — telling them to drop the petition and instead focus on knocking off Piepkorn in the general election in 2018 — the reaction was quick and mean, even if the advice came from people appalled by Piepkorn's actions. That includes the F-M Refugee Advisory Council, which the committee turned on when it called for an end to the recall. Who's the bully, again?
So many bridges burned, so much earth scorched. So much time, effort and money wasted for nothing other than to strengthen Piepkorn. Amateur Hour, defined.