Mayor Sonny Bono Resists a Recall, Telling Palm Springs Voters, 'You Got Me, Babe'

UPDATED 10/02/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 10/02/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

Typical of his average workday, the Mayor's schedule is jammed on this uneventful Thursday. Ordinarily his meetings with constituents, his secretary kindly explains, begin at 9 A.M. and go nonstop until lunch. "We like to do a lot of publicity shots," she says. "Afternoons are full of official duties as well. There's a lot of foreign press wanting interviews. Sometimes he films commercials or travels to New York City for shows like Letterman's. And next week the Mayor is filming a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous—for the second time since he has been in office."

Okay then, that explains why entertainer, restaurateur and Cher's ex-husband Sonny Bono is simply too busy to comment on the burgeoning recall movement that is threatening to unseat him from his first elected office. The man is simply doing his job. Unfortunately, 17 months after he was elected Mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., several citizens groups—including Save Palm Springs and Citizens of Palm Springs—have a bone to pick with Bono.

When Sonny, 54, jumped into the race for his current $15,000-a-year job, he had vowed to oust the old-boy clique at City Hall, to rejuvenate the downtown shopping strip, to restore the town's fading aura of glamour and to boost tourism. He also held coffee klatches every Sunday and promised the same accessibility if elected. "Sonny Bono is an actor," says retired newspaperman Dick Sroda, spokesman for Save Palm Springs. "He told people what they wanted to hear, but once elected, he forgot his lines."

At first folks chuckled when Sonny presided over a city council meeting by reading from a procedural guide. There was audible grumbling when he used $4,500 of city funds to pay for new publicity photos. Then, when he requested that the city fund first-class tickets for him, his wife, Mary, their 16-month-old daughter, Chesare, and a nanny when traveling on official business, even some of his supporters balked. "Funny he should've asked for that perk just a few days before leaving for the Cannes Film Festival," says Sroda. And some of Sonny's non-mayoral pursuits have left the impression he is doing less to boost tourism than his own faltering career. Since taking office, he has performed at New York's Bottom Line nightclub, filmed a TV pilot and even a Miller Lite beer commercial.

Anti-Sonny sentiment first picked up steam this spring when, citing the need to spend some time with his family, he bowed out of an AIDS-benefit walkathon that included former President Gerald Ford, actor Kirk Douglas and mayors from surrounding communities. Another blowup came when Sonny fired three members of the Visitors and Promotion Board and forbade public comment and testimony on the issue. That elicited cries of "Mayor Bonehead" and "Sonny Bonaparte" from his detractors.

It also spurred the recall campaign, and a petition to end Sonny's four-year term is now being reviewed by a city clerk and an attorney. Once the legalities of wording and form are cleared, 4,058 signatures—20 percent of the town's voters—will be needed before the issue hits the ballot. Sroda admits the campaign will be an uphill fight but says "we wouldn't have started if we didn't feel we could get the signatures."

Mayor Sonny is not without supporters, however. "He gets an A for effort," says city councilwoman Sharon Apfelbaum. "The reality is, 17 months ago a man with absolutely no experience was elected. People need to exercise patience while he learns the job."

There's no denying that hotel occupancy is up (though some credit the town's recently completed, long-planned convention center) and that retail-tax collections have risen as well. And still to come are Sonny's pet projects: a pro-am bike race this month, a vintage-car race in November, a film festival in January. Better yet (for Sonny), at least one prominent recall backer has recently backed down.

Bill Gordon, co-owner of the local gay publication, the Bottom Line, and the man who claims credit for launching the recall campaign after Sonny nixed the AIDS walk, held a 2½-hour meeting with the Mayor earlier this month. "Sonny's aware of the problems he has—at least now he is," reports Gordon, noting that a repentant Sonny even held his first postelection coffee klatch soon afterward. He also says that Sonny has promised to participate in the next AIDS march. "He told me that he'll not only walk," says Gordon happily, "he'll wear roller skates."

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