Posted: 09/16/2011 12:00:00 AM MDT
The fight to remove the mayor and two council members continued on Thursday with a group of religious conservatives filing petitions for recall elections and the mayor taking the legal battle to the court of appeals.
El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, the group advocating the recall, filed petitions against Mayor John Cook and city Rep. Susie Byrd early Thursday morning. It already had filed one against city Rep. Steve Ortega on Wednesday.
Municipal Clerk Richarda Momsen has 10 days to verify that the signatures belong to people eligible to vote for the officials they are trying to recall. If there are enough signatures and if the effort withstands the legal challenge, then recall elections will be held in May, Momsen said.
"It's too late for November," she said.
The recall group said it submitted 10,564 signatures to recall Cook, in excess of the 6,121 needed.
It also said it gathered 1,137 against Ortega and 1,093 against Byrd -- more than the 655 needed against Ortega and the 668 needed against Byrd.
"Today we made history," said Salvador Gomez, a leader of the petition drive. He said that no previous recall drive was able to gather enough signatures to proceed to an election.
Byrd said she'll fight if an election is called.
"In public policy making, you have to be ready to defend the positions you've taken," she said. "I'm happy to go out to the voters and explain why I voted the way I did on domestic-partner benefits."
The recall group is trying to oust the officials because they voted to offer health benefits to gay and unmarried partners of city employees despite a citywide vote last November ending the practice.
"These signatures are a credit to God and country," said Ben Mendoza, who helped circulate the petition against Byrd, during a rowdy news conference in front of City Hall.
Tom Gallego, another member of the family values group, waved a sign that depicted Cook with his trademark guitar smashed over his head and with blood streaming down his face.
Asked whether the sign was civil, Ignacio Padilla, a former city representative and a leader of the group, said of the mayor, "He's the one who took our civil rights."
Cook is arguing that many signatures on the group's petitions violate the law. He said they were circulated by churches and other corporations, violating a state law banning the practice.
Pastor Tom Brown, a leader of the recall effort, used his Tom Brown Ministries website to recruit people to circulate petitions and to direct people to his Word of Life Church and three other houses of worship to sign them.