The Armenian National Committee has delayed a decision to endorse local candidates for the 43rd Assembly District and is instead planning to host a debate before taking a position on the two contenders in the special June 8 runoff election.
The candidates, Democrat Mike Gatto and Republican Sunder Ramani, are aggressively pursuing the support of groups and representatives from the Armenian American community, which campaign workers estimate accounts for about 20% of voters in the 43rd Assembly District.
The Armenian National Committee's Glendale chapter, which has interviewed the candidates, will host the forum to educate Armenian Americans on the two hopefuls, said Leonard Manoukian, co-chairman of the organization.
"We said, 'Well, the community needs to get to know these people better and let's afford them the means by which to do that.' And forum came up," Manoukian said.
The committee had not previously planned on holding the forum, but made the decision after the special primary election April 13 in which the two Armenian American candidates were eliminated from contention in the runoff.
Details of the debate are still uncertain, but it will likely be filmed in a studio and televised, and may be translated into Armenian, Manoukian said.
The organization decided not to endorse candidates before holding a forum, putting off any support for either of the contenders with less than a month to go before election day.
"You need to consider the fact . . . if you endorse someone, the other side is not necessarily going to show up at your forum, and rightfully so," Manoukian said.
The candidates in the runoff said they were looking forward to the opportunity to have more face time before the voters.
"I think it's a good idea, I mean, if that's the way to reach out to different people and get them engaged," said Ramani, a small-business owner and former president of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce.
Gatto, an attorney and the former district director for Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), said the debate would provide a valuable platform to reach out to a key constituency.
"I think it'll be great and I think it'll be something that helps introduce the two non-Armenian candidates to the Armenian community, so I'm looking forward to it very much," Gatto said. "We just have to find a date that works for the two candidates."
The candidates said they have been using the weeks since the election to continue promoting their message to voters, with Gatto discussing the importance of solving the state's budgetary and economic crises and Ramani focusing on "jobs, jobs, jobs."