Controversial former Lake Forest Councilman Adam Nick finally succeeded in a multi-year quest to recall one of his political opponents: Councilman Andrew Hamilton was recalled yesterday in a special election in which only 14% of Lake Forest voters participated. Tom Cagley was the top voter-getter on the replacement with 51.8%.
Timing is everything in politics, and holding an election the day after New Year’s Day ensures an extraordinarily low turnout, which tends to favor the side with the most intensity. Yesterday was no exception as 73% of those who cast ballots vote to recall Hamilton, a conservative Republican and supporter of property rights. Four-fifths of participating voters cast their ballots by mail.
Nick single-handedly funded the paid signature gathering campaign to qualify the recall, and the independent expenditure campaign accusing Hamilton as being too pro-development. All in all, Nick spent more than $130,000 of his own money on the effort.
For the last few years, Nick has been gunning for the conservative council majority bloc of Hamilton and Councilmember Dwight Robinson and Mayor Scott Voigts, targeting them with failed recall efforts. Nick is a turbulent figure in city politics whose erratic behavior includes attempting to bribe a local reporter. He was elected to the city council in 2012 but defeated for re-election in 2016.
Recall opponents criticized the recall as an abuse of the process and a waster of money, pointing out that Hamilton was up for re-election later this year. They also pointed out the recall campaign was totally dependent on Nick’s financial support. Hamilton dismissed the allegations of recall proponents as distortions and lies.
Winning replacement candidate Cagley, a retired Army colonel, was the only candidate who spent significant resources on voter communication. Former Councilman Mark Tettemer came in second with 22.8% of the vote.
Cagley will serve the remaining 11 months of Hamilton’s council term, and can seek election to a full-term in the November 2018 general election.
Lake Forest has become one of those cities – like Yorba Linda or Anaheim – in which the dominant feature of council politics is grinding trench warfare between contending factions. While Nick succeeded in bringing down Councilman Hamilton, the abysmally low-turnout election means it doesn’t really settle matters politically. It’s problematic to claim “the voters have spoken!” when 86% of Lake Forest voters failed to speak with their ballots. While Tom Cagley elections shifts the balance of power on the city council, only 6.6% of Lake Forest citizens voted for him. The reality is this recall election is the opening round of the November 2018 council elections.