BY ZANKU ARMENIAN
I wrote in one of my recent columns in the Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader what a dirty business politics can be. Historically, the Armenian community’s participation in elections has been focused on trying to encourage civic participation by getting people to vote. In the last decade, that dynamic started to evolve as more Armenians began to actually run for public office, especially in Glendale.
The idea of having Armenians run for elected office started off on the right foot, a natural progression toward more involvement in the affairs of the city and a desire to enter public service. But somewhere along the way, things went off course. More recently the community has allowed itself to fall victim to a strategy of division, preventing it from achieving its legitimate presence on the public stage.
In the last several election cycles, Glendale’s establishment, which wants to prevent the Armenian community’s representation in the city has been encouraging unqualified Armenian candidates to run for office, often to great embarrassment to the community. These interests also have converged with the larger political establishment that wants to prevent the community’s rightful presence in the state and national political arena as well. It’s natural for the area with the densest Armenian population to serve as a springboard for qualified Armenian candidates with aspirations for public office, which is probably why the battle has become so heated in Glendale. This requires everyone in the community to act smarter in the choices they make.
Case in point, in their communications the Glendale establishment is using the rallying cry that the “special interests” are conspiring to take over Glendale. The “special interests” they are referring to is their code word for “Armenians.” Both city council incumbents John Drayman and Dave Weaver have participated in events where this sort of thing is openly discussed and have been desperately trying to ring the alarm bells in non-Armenian circles that the Armenians are conspiring to take over the city.
At one of these events for the two incumbents, the invitation openly said, “Maybe certain special interest groups, groups that win by absentee ballots, may not want you to go to the polls to vote on Tuesday April 5? Maybe they are trying to keep the news under the radar? Maybe they are counting on low voter turnout?” I attended that event and I asked both Drayman and Weaver directly in front of everyone who are these “special interests” that they speak of? They were too cowardly to openly share their views. Instead they attacked City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian, making baseless insinuations that he is somehow involved in an Armenian conspiracy. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is merely their way of playing the ugliest version of race politics.
Finally, their other tool in this race is Garen Mailyan, an obviously unqualified and fringe Armenian council candidate, who is serving as the front man for the incumbents to “validate” their racist views. At each of the candidate forums in front of non-Armenian audiences Mailyan in his closing remarks makes baseless Armenian conspiracy accusations against the other two Armenian candidates, Rafi Manoukian and Chahe Keuroghelian.
Using division as a path to power, the way Drayman and Weaver have been doing for years, has long-term destructive consequences not only for the Armenian community, but also for the city. It is in the interests of the city to allow room for legitimate leadership from the Armenian community to evolve into positions that serve in city affairs. This is necessary so that the community integrates and finds its place in our American society.
Tens-of-thousands of hard working and tax paying Armenian-American families have chosen to make Glendale their home and have a stake in the city’s future. The extreme polarization of the city’s politics and the intentional political isolation of the Armenian community by those willing to play dirty politics is hurting Glendale.
The community shares some responsibility for this reality. Large parts of the community and community organizations have remained insular and disconnected from the affairs of the city, instead of taking ownership and making a positive and constructive impact on our collective destiny as a city. Through apathy and inaction, the community has allowed room for this situation to take deeper root in the city instead of demanding change.
For the upcoming Glendale municipal elections, many people were encouraging me to run, hoping for a fresh choice. Even with the pressures of my career, I seriously considered taking on this challenge and was willing to jump in. I believe the city needs not only someone who understands the Armenian community and has played a leadership role in it, but at the same time brings a fresh vision and proven professional leadership to the city; a type of leader who is qualified in the broader context beyond the Armenian community, able to represent all its citizens. Glendale’s evolution is at a critical juncture and I believe my candidacy would have brought our city together, bridging the divide that has been created and beginning the process of positive change.
In my deliberations, I decided to have dialogue with many potential candidates who had pulled papers, including the six others of Armenian descent beside me, to understand their vision and reasons for running. In the end, several potential candidates displayed the maturity and restraint I hope all future candidates will exemplify, putting the greater good of our city first. The consensus was that the two incumbents are harming the future of our city and the challengers need to be given the best chance of winning.
Contrary to the intentions of the division game the incumbents have been playing, the field narrowed making it a competitive race. The April 5th ballot will have Rafi Manoukian, Mike Mohill, Chahe Keuroghelian, Garen Mailyan, and incumbents John Drayman and Dave Weaver on it for city council. My hope is that two challengers succeed in ousting the two incumbents and we should all get out and vote to ensure this happens.
I believe a future free of discrimination is what we all desire and that our children deserve. To achieve our future, we must all get out and vote for those candidates we believe can help us get there. And after elections, we should work to ensure there is accountability for all council members to exemplify integrity, maturity and a constructive vision that moves all citizens forward together.