Armenian-American community eyes Ardy Kassakhian for the 43rd Assembly District seat
BY HAROUT HARRY SEMERDJIAN
As Californians prepare to vote on the June 7 primary election, which includes races for U.S. Senate and dozens of legislative and congressional offices, one race in the heart of Los Angeles County holds a special place for the large and vibrant Armenian-American community – one of the most politically active ethnic groups in the United States. California’s sprawling 43rd Assembly District, which encompasses the cities of Glendale, Burbank, La Canada Flintridge, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of East Hollywood, Little Armenia, Atwater Village, Los Feliz and Silver Lake, is up for grabs in this election as the current Assemblymember is being termed out.
Among the eight candidates vying for the seat, Democratic candidate Ardy Kassakhian stands out for his proven record of leadership as Glendale’s elected City Clerk for the past ten years. Ardy has been elected 3 times to his current post and at 12,319 votes in the last election, he received the most votes of any elected official in Glendale history in a contested race. His strong record as City Clerk has been recognized by local, state and national leaders. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has endorsed Ardy Kassakhian, praised Ardy for making “a real difference in the effort to promote justice and protect voting rights.” Garcetti further continued “in the State Assembly he will fight for better schools, safe neighborhoods and keeping entertainment industry jobs right here.”
Ardy’s endorsements include political heavy weights such as California Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, State Treasurer John Chiang, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, representatives Brad Sherman and Eliot Engel, State Board of Equalization Chairperson Fiona Ma and dozens of city and state legislators, unions and organizations.
For the Armenian-American community, numbering some half a million strong in the greater Los Angeles area, “Ardy Kassakhian represents the very best of both the American and Armenian traditions of public service,” stated Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). “He is a man of vision and character. A role model for our youth, a tireless advocate for our community, and a powerful leader for our future” Hamparian continued.
The Armenian community in the United States has a reputation for being one of the most well-organized and effective ethnic lobbies, and the ANCA, as the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots organization in the country, is at the center of its political life.
As a community that has historically shied away from politics, the Armenian-American community of Assembly District 43 – the largest in the United States – sees this as an opportunity to have one of its own elected to the seat.
This race has united the American-Armenian community like never before. The community has not seen a level of political activism on such a wide scale since the successful campaign to elect Paul Krekorian to CA State Assembly 10 years ago. After serving as Assemblymember for 3 years, Krekorian was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 2009 and has been serving Council District 2 since assuming office in 2010.
Like Krekorian, American-born Kassakhian not only appeals to the Armenian community but also to the diverse communities of the District with set priorities as building a growing economy and increasing jobs, improving the public safety of our neighborhoods and strengthening public schools. His supporters point to his successes as an elected City Clerk.
Ardy’s commitment to a strong public school education seems to contrast with that of one of his prime opponents, Glendale City Councilmember Laura Friedman. While Ardy has been endorsed by the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers , the United Teachers Los Angeles and board members of various school districts, Friedman has attracted the support of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). The CCSA has funneled nearly $1.5 million towards her campaign, most of which have been used in negative campaigning against Ardy via television ads and mailers.
This large sum of money from this controversial source has angered the Armenian-American community and concerned at least one LAUSD Board Member. The CCSA includes charter schools belonging to the Turkish Gülenist movement. This cult-type Islamic movement is headed by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, who controls a world-wide network of charter schools, including over 120 in the United States alone, some of whom have been raided and investigated by the FBI for possible financial improprieties.
Ara Khatchatourian, English Language Editor of Asbarez newspaper, calls this campaign a “vicious smear campaign against an Armenian candidate.” These Gülenist charter schools are viewed to teach American children an official version of history from a foreign government, the Republic of Turkey, in denying the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Gülenist charter schools seem to have found a natural ally in Laura Friedman to defeat an Armenian candidate, and Friedman has clearly taken advantage of the situation to financially boost her campaign through pro-Turkish interests.
“It is no coincidence that charter schools are being forced down the throat of Glendale residents and voters. It is also no coincidence that the CCSA is backing Friedman, who is going to be sympathetic to pushing for more charter schools in our communities,” said local community activist Frank Higginbotham.
“It is imperative that Ardy Kassakhian win this election,” continued Higginbotham. “We need Ardy to win, as this fight for public education is the key to American Democracy.”
Harout Harry Semerdjian has been a PhD scholar at the University of Oxford and holds M.A. degrees from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University and UCLA. He is a resident of the East Hollywood community of the 43rd Assembly District. He can be reached at [email protected]