LOS ANGELES (AP) -- In the first public sign that Gov. Gray Davis' allies view the Republican effort to recall the Democratic governor as a serious threat, a group of labor and religious leaders said Tuesday they were launching a campaign to oppose it.
A longtime senior Davis adviser, Steve Smith, will take a leave of absence from his administration job to serve as campaign manager, said Carroll Wills, communications director for the California Professional Firefighters, which is a leader of the new effort.
Signature gatherers are already on the street circulating petitions in opposition to a recall, Wills said. He said the campaign's budget will be $1 million to $3 million.
The involvement of Smith, a top adviser during Davis' gubernatorial campaigns and former political director of the California Democratic Party, suggests that Davis is taking the recall seriously after months of playing it down.
But Davis adviser Roger Salazar said the governor's focus "is on doing the work that he's being paid to do."
"I don't think he sees it as any more of a threat than he did when it first popped up," Salazar said.
Most political consultants, however, view the recall much more seriously since the involvement earlier this month of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, who donated $445,000 to the effort and formed a committee to raise money to replace Davis as governor.
Prior to that, the recall was largely seen as an underfunded, longshot bid by conservative activists angered over the unpopular governor's handling of the state's energy crisis and record budget deficit.
Smith, who is secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, was on vacation Tuesday and did not immediately respond to a request for comment left with Wills.
The new effort, "Taxpayers Against the Recall," will be formally launched Wednesday outside a Sacramento fire station.
In addition to Dan Terry, president of the California Professional Firefighters, other co-chairs of the new group are: Rev. Cecil B. Murray of the First AME Church in Los Angeles; Mary Bergen, president of the California Federation of Teachers; Fred Keeley, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League; and Miguel Contreras, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
Proponents said in a press release that they will "voice their concern that the recall effort seeks to divert critical taxpayer dollars to the re-running of last year's election at a time when state and local budgets are stretched to the breaking point."
Tuesday was also a deadline for counties to report to the California secretary of state the number of signatures turned in by recall supporters as of May 19. Recall backers began collecting signatures two months ago and must collect 897,158 by Sept. 2 to get the recall on the ballot.
Backers of the original recall efforts, begun this winter before Issa got involved, held a press conference May 5 at which they claimed they were turning in 100,000 signatures to county clerks.
As of the end of the business day Tuesday, however, the secretary of state reported receiving only 18,590 signatures -- 8,425 from Sacramento County and 10,165 from San Diego County. No other counties reported receiving signatures. Monterey and San Mateo counties did not file reports.
Anti-tax activist Ted Costa and former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian were the recall leaders involved with the May 5 press conference. Kaloogian did not immediately respond to phone messages Tuesday, while Costa insisted that more than 160,000 signatures had been collected and "are getting turned in in an orderly fashion."
As for the claim made at the press conference that 100,000 signatures were about to be turned in, Costa said, "I didn't say that. Mr. Kaloogian probably did say that and I believe his press release said that."
Meanwhile, Dave Gilliard, the leader of the Issa-backed effort, Rescue California, said paid signature gatherers had collected 200,000 signatures but had not yet turned them in.
Rescue California has raised more than $500,000 toward a $1.5 million goal, including the $445,000 from Issa. All the signatures being collected by the different recall backers will eventually be merged into a single list.