BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
You’re reading this, no more than three days before an important election, that being held to fill the vacancy in the California’s 43rd State Assembly District (43rd AD). Please, if you read no further, do one thing, MAKE SURE YOU VOTE. As of this writing, 40% of Armenians who have requested absentee ballots have not yet returned them. If you’re one of them, fill your ballot out and mail it in (or, you can even carry it in to the polls on election day). If you vote at the polls, don’t forget to do so on April 13.
This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed this race, but it is the most crucial. Here’s a quick review, then, on to the highlights. This election became necessary when Paul Krekorian, the former incumbent of this “Armenian district”, was elected to the Los Angeles City Council. Four candidates ended up with their hats in the ring, one Republican, three Democratic (two of the latter being Armenians). This being a special election, any one of them could win by getting over 50% of the votes cast. But, because of the number of candidates, and the district being predominantly Democratic in voter registration, it is exceedingly unlikely that any of them will muster that level of support. This means the highest vote-getter from each party will advance to a runoff election, assuring the lone Republican a berth in that June runoff election.
Sunder Ramani– a reasonable Republican, sailing easily to the June election, even if he were to get just one vote.
Chahe Keuroghelian– a three time loser in Glendale City Council elections, has no chance of winning because his support is limited to Armenian voters.
Mike Gatto– a serious contender, many endorsers and supporters (see below for his downside)
Nayiri Nahabedian- a serious contender, many endorsers and supporters with a long history of service in and to the Armenian and broader communities.
So who should you vote for or encourage your relatives, friends, etc. living in the district to vote for? A lot depends on where the voter is coming from, of course, and since this piece is published in forums read primarily by Armenians, obviously, my suggestions will be directed to that audience.
Obviously, no one should waste their vote on Chahe, since he has no chance of actually winning. He’s not even campaigning among non-Armenians. As of this writing, the last numbers available to me were that close to 17,000 voters had cast absentee ballots, of which some 30% are Armenians. You do the math. Even if Chahe splits the Armenian votes with Nayiri (i.e. he has about 2500 votes currently), he couldn’t possibly muster enough additional votes to put him over the top in an election with a projected turnout of 30,000 to 35,000.
If you’re a Republican, since your party’s candidate is assured a slot in the June runoff election, you should vote for Nayiri. Why? Remember, the 43rd AD is a predominantly Democratic district. Ultimately, it is likely a Democratic Party candidate will win election. Presumably, as an Armenian, all other things being equal, you’d prefer an Armenian to win. And, if indeed Sunder, the Republican, does not win in June, and the Democratic contender (the one who makes it past the April 13 election) does, you’d prefer it to be Nayiri, not Mike. And you can obviously vote for Sunder in the June election.
If your party affiliation is “Democratic” or “decline to state” (often referred to as “independents”), or even “Green” or “Peace and Freedom”, again, your natural choice in this election is Nayiri. She has experience in elective office. That elective office is a school board position and about half the state budget goes to education. Her knowledge of this arena will be invaluable in the state Assembly. Plus, she’s a college teacher, has been a social worker, has worked diligently and productively in the ANC-Burbank, and she’s participated in the AGBU’s “Generation Next” mentorship program. She is competent and has integrity.
Just to not totally ignore Mike Gatto, as noted above, he’s a real candidate, but one who’s campaigning is of questionable merit. One of his biggest flaws is trying to pass himself off as an educator, when he just started teaching English to immigrants (an otherwise noble activity) a few months ago. I’m guessing his campaign consultant told him “education polls well, do something we can use in your campaign”. On top of it, he’s attacked Nayiri’s credentials as an educator, when that’s been her livelihood for several years.
As if this wasn’t enough, Mike has sent out mailers touting his supposedly anti-corporate stances. Yet he’s an attorney working with other attorneys who are very well connected. Plus, it turns out a PAC called “California Alliance For Progress And Education, An Alliance Of Professionals, Employees And Small Business” is doing work for Mike in the form of “independent expenditure” (IE) very late in the campaign. This is according to the California Secretary of State’s website where such activities must be reported within 24 hours. Now, there’s nothing wrong with IEs. It’s part of the election process, even though they can often be nasty. But if you’re pretending to be a crusader for the little guy against the big corporate interests (Mike’s claims in essence), then it is very odd when a PAC such as this one, among whose funders is Anthem Blue Cross (remember them? the ones who tried to jack up premiums for their health insurance customers almost 40% in one fell swoop) is spending in excess of $80,000 for you at the last minute.
And, this isn’t the only place where Mike’s hypocrisy manifests itself. Watch this youtube video (and pass it along to all your friends) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLS61TC6HNc. Among other things, you’ll see Mike claiming to oppose “playing ethnic politics”. Yet, by most people’s estimate, he and Chahe have formed a tacit alliance to cut into Nayiri’s support in the Armenian community. That’s not “playing ethnic politics”? Plus, a posting on the blog “Mayor Sam”
(http://mayorsam.blogspot.com/2010/04/mud-slinging-ethnic-politics-and.html) indicts Parke Skelton, Mike’s renowned campaign consultant, for being known to use community-dividing tactics. And, he’s got Spanish language mailers going out. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the hypocrisy that’s problematic.
Mike Gatto also seems vindictive and undemocratic. He had organizers of a candidates forum throw out a TV reporter who had previously covered Mike unfavorably. Then there’s the strange story I got from two different people who’d received cryptic, number blocked (of course!), calls. The caller claimed to know that Mike had sold marijuana while at UC Berkeley. There are fe possibilities here: 1- caller’s a crackpot; 2- he’s got a grudge against Mike; 3- story’s true- though I highly doubt it; and 4- it’s a set up from Mike’s campaign so they recipients of the call would go with the “info”, and run afoul of libel and/or slander laws, allowing Mike to use this “vilification” to garner more votes. My bet’s on the last option…
Finally, Mike is also obviously lack
ing in taste, or even decency. How many people would exploit their new-born daughter on a campaign mailer? She’s hours, or barely days, old judging from the fact that the picture on one side of the mailer is clearly taken in the hospital bed. Tacky, tacky, tacky, even by my standards!
So regardless of where your political party affiliation or allegiance lies, it behooves you to vote for Nayiri on April 13 so you can have two decent candidates to choose from in the June runoff. Plus, this will show those who try to sow division and discord within the Armenian community that their efforts will come to naught. We have our internal differences. But, we know when someone is trying to play us. We know this kind of situation where casting a vote for Chahe is equivalent to casting a vote for Mike so he can defeat Nayiri, the truly representative, and best, candidate who’s risen from our community. This election is an opportunity for us to take one more step in our political maturation. Let’s do it! Let’s vote in droves! Let’s vote for Nayiri.