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Escanaba recall petition fails in circulators’ first try

ESCANABA — A petition drive to recall Escanaba City Councilman Ralph Blasier has failed to garnish enough signatures to put the question on the November ballot, but the organizers of the drive are still working to put the question of Blasier’s future with the council before the voters.

In order for the recall to appear on the November General Election ballot, organizers needed to secure 1,218 valid signatures from Escanaba residents and return those signatures to the county clerk’s office by July 28. However, COVID-19 has complicated efforts to collect signatures.

“People are hesitant to try and open their doors,” said Escanaba resident Peter Gregoire, who sponsored the petition to remove Blasier. “They’re just hesitant of … you know, meeting people they don’t know, and it’s just making it hard. I mean, I don’t think we could have picked a harder time to try to get anything but it’s just the way it worked so there wasn’t much we could do about that.”

After Gregoire’s petition language was approved by the county election commission on June 29, Gregoire had 180 days to collect the 1,218 signatures needed for the recall to appear on a ballot. Because the deadline for the November ballot has passed, Blasier’s recall could appear on the May ballot if Gregoire and his volunteers submit the required signatures. However, signatures are only valid for 60 days, meaning Gregoire and the volunteers have until the end of August to collect all of the needed signatures before signatures collected early in the drive begin to expire.

So far, roughly half of the required signatures have been collected.

“We’re not giving up by any means, I mean I’ve still got lots of streets to walk in Escanaba,” said Gregoire.

Gregoire submitted his language for the petition following remarks made by Blasier at the June 4 Escanaba City Council meeting about the city’s Independence Day celebration. During the meeting, Blasier read from what he described as a “press release” he drafted, which included, “Any person throwing objects at police, shooting at anyone, looting and setting fires will be shot in both legs and left lying there till dawn, and at dawn, each person will need to crawl to the hospital.”

He added to the statement by saying the press release was a “first draft,” but it is what he would publish if he were solely in charge of the city.

Blasier made it clear at the meeting the comment was intended as a joke, but in the light of protests across the country over the death of George Floyd — a black man, who died after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 45 seconds — it fell flat with many residents.

Blasier issued an apology for the statement the day after it was made, but some felt the apology didn’t go far enough. This prompted Gregoire to submit petition the language, which reads:

“We, the undersigned, registered and qualified voters of the City of Escanaba, in the County of Delta, and State of Michigan, petition for the calling of an election to recall Ralph Blasier from the office of city councilman, for the following reason(s): Councilman Ralph Blasier’s violent and cruel implications and suggestions do not serve the best interests of Escanaba. Specifically, at the city council meeting on June 4, 2020 in his capacity as a member of the council, Ralph Blasier proposed that any person throwing objects at police, shooting at anyone, looting and setting fires, will be shot in both legs and left lying there till dawn, and at dawn each person would need to crawl to the hospital, further that if he were alone in charge, that is what he would publish.”

Due to the issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers circulating the petition had to find new ways to get signatures within the required time frame, including the “Recall Ralph Blasier Petition Drive” Facebook group, where residents can request a visit or find an address of a petition drive volunteer.

“We will get to them, we will be masked up, we will be disinfected, and we’ll just hand them the disinfected pen and sheets, and we’ll let them sign and they won’t have to go out,” said Gregoire.

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