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Sieting loses recall election in landslide

Aaron Selbig
Jeff Sieting waits outside the Kalkaska Township Hall during Tuesday's recall election.

The president of the village of Kalkaska has been removed from office.

Jeff Sieting made headlines a year ago when some of his anti-Muslim social media posts went viral. On Facebook, Sieting compared Islam to “a flesh-eating bacteria,” and called for nuclear weapons to be used on Muslim cities.

A recall effort began soon after the posts came to light, and yesterday, Kalkaska voters chose a new leader to replace Sieting.

Credit Aaron Selbig
Harley Wales [center] celebrates his victory over Jeff Sieting in Tuesday's recall election.

Russell McCormick says he supports Sieting because he’s Christian and Kalkaska, he says, is “a Christian town.”

“We have good people here in this community,” says McCormick. “The problem we’re having here is we’ve got a lot of newcomers here that … think that things are like they are in the big cities. They’re not here.”

McCormick shrugs off Sieting’s Facebook posts. He says Sieting is being “railroaded” because some of the newcomers are too sensitive.

“Nowadays, everybody [says], ‘you’re hurting my feelings,’” says McCormick. “Buddy, I’m sorry but I don’t care about the feelings. I care about you as a human being, and if someone’s whipping your ass, you can bet your ass I’m going to save you.”

Credit Aaron Selbig
A truck shows support for former Kalkaska village president Jeff Sieting.

McCormick lives down the street from the Kalkaska Township Hall, where a steady stream of voters filed in and out all day.

Jeff Sieting is hanging out with his family at Chalker Park next door. I ask him if he could go back in time, would he still post all that stuff on Facebook.

“I think I’d just go punch Mark Zuckerberg in the face and say, ‘why the hell did you even invent it?’” he says.

Sieting says the last year has been a learning experience for him. He says he never thought his Facebook posts would cause so much turmoil. He insists he was trying to be “educational,” and his thoughts were misinterpreted.

“Facebook is one of those things you can create who you are or who you’re not, and it’s easy for other people to do the same thing – to create something that you’re not as much as who you are,” says Sieting.

The last year has been tough for Kalkaska, Sieting says, but he sees an upside.

“It seems like for the first time I can remember, the community, whether it’s divided at this point or not, actually stands for something,” says Sieting. “Everybody has picked a side and they’re emotional about it. They’re fervent about it, and I think that’s good. I think if we can turn that around, heal this division that’s taken place and bring us together, I think we have a high level of energy, a high level of interest. I’m hoping that after this all subsides and dies down, no matter how it ends, that that interest level stays up.”

Credit Aaron Selbig
Harley Wales defeated Jeff Sieting in Tuesday's recall election.

Elizabeth Dunham helped organized the recall effort against Sieting. She says she was sickened and overwhelmed when she first saw his Facebook posts.

“The posts were just so awful and violent and hateful,” says Dunham. “I honestly thought it was too big an issue to take on. I mean, where do you even start with something like that?”

Dunham started by going to village meetings. Soon she met others who felt the same way she did. They organized as a group and one of them – Harley Wales – volunteered to run against Sieting in a recall election.

“This just seemed like the right opportunity,” says Wales. “Things have gotten really bad … for the town, and somebody needed to step up. So I stepped up. I felt it was the right time for a positive influence. I’m a pretty upbeat person, and I think that’s what the village really needs right now.”

The unofficial tally from Tuesday’s election is 215 votes for Sieting and 326 for Wales.

“It feels great,” says Wales. “That’s exactly what needed to happen. Kalkaska really needed to come out and show that they’re a town full of love, and they did that in huge numbers today. I’m so happy.”

Wales will have his work cut out for him right away. A special village council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday night to discuss a costly lawsuit between the village and a group of former employees.