A City Council candidate is losing prominent endorsements and is at risk of being stripped of his seat on a city commission amid allegations that he is the author of “racist, homophobic, misogynist and threatening” YouTube comments that bear his name.
Editor’s note: Readers may find the content displayed on some of the hyperlinks included in this story to be offensive.
The comments — which mostly center on Armenia’s geopolitical enemies by referring to them as “lazy,” “degenerate thieves,” “dirty” and more vulgar terms — were attributed to City Council candidate Zareh Sinanyan through a tangled web of online profiles that allegedly lead back to the YouTube comments made under his name.
Sinanyan faces losing his commission seat after two City Council incumbents who are running for reelection — Laura Friedman and Ara Najarian — on Tuesday scheduled a council discussion on possibly stripping Sinanyan of his post on the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee next week.
“I would not bring this up if it wasn't a very long series of posts around the Internet, on blog sites and on YouTube, that are extremely disturbing, that are racist, homophobic, misogynist, threatening and really beyond something that we as a city can afford to have associated with one of our commissioners,” Friedman said in proposing the motion.
Mayor Frank Quintero joined Najarian in supporting Friedman’s request to bring the item up for discussion.
Sinanyan has been the top fundraiser so far in the council race and had garnered a wide coalition of endorsements. But in the days since the allegations surfaced, three high-profile names — Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), Los Angeles mayoral run-off candidate Eric Garcetti and L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian — have withdrawn their support.
On Tuesday, Schiff sent a letter to Sinanyan’s campaign rescinding his endorsement, citing comments that he called “deeply disturbing and not befitting any member of the public, let alone one seeking to represent the city on an elected body.”
Schiff went on to write that while he hoped Sinanyan was not connected to the comments, he had to rescind his endorsement until the matter is resolved.
Sinanyan did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but on Thursday his campaign director, Elen Asatryan, said he will address the council’s concerns at the Tuesday meeting.
Friedman said by phone Wednesday that she had not done her own research, but rather was relying on a descriptive email about the comments sent to multiple community members, as well as to the Glendale News-Press.
“I am not leading the charge on anything here, but I do believe we have a responsibility to address it,” she said.
The email includes several screen shots of the comments left in response to other YouTube viewers, but there are other usernames connected to the comments, which include vulgar language about women, Muslims and Georgians.
An investigation online revealed a web of tangled connections between various social media and content-sharing sites. For starters, using the cache feature that shows historic snapshots of web pages, the comments attributed to “Zareh Sinanyan” once were tagged to the username “gazanutyun.”
The comments lead to a YouTube account, or channel, also created by a user named “gazanutyun.” The username is referred to in several responses to the vulgar comments going as far back as five years.
The account, created in 2006, has few posts or subscribers.
But according to a cached YouTube post, on Feb. 5 the same profile had the title and username, “Zareh Sinanyan.”
Once a Google+ profile is linked to a YouTube account, the two share the same username. Before linking accounts, Google gives users information about the comments, subscriptions and videos that will be attributed to the new name.
A Google+ profile that leads to the YouTube account connected to the comments was once under the name “Zareh Sinanyan,” a cached version of the profile shows.
Adding to the confusion, the name on the Google profile has since been changed to “Thomas Paine.” An email from the Glendale Assn. of Realtors dated March 5 to City Council candidates links Sinanyan’s personal email address to the name “Thomas Paine.”
Thomas Paine was an American Founding Father and the author of “Common Sense,” the first publication calling for Colonial independence from Great Britain.
The Google+ page has just three “connections” — two of which are friends with Sinanyan’s Facebook page.
In addition to the YouTube comments, a September 2012 Facebook comment Sinanyan left on an Armenian National Committee of America post includes a racial slur directed at Mongolians.
Najarian — who appointed Sinanyan to the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee, which he chaired from 2009 to 2011 — said he had asked Sinanyan before the council meeting Tuesday if he would resign to “avoid a public airing” of the issues, but Sinanyan declined to do so.
Najarian added that he didn’t want to bring up the allegations on the dais because he didn’t feel it was his duty to do so, but ultimately decided to support Friedman’s request to give Sinanyan a chance to defend himself.
“I don’t know enough about it to be a finder of facts,” he said. “Essentially, we’re being asked to be a judge and jury at this point.”
But the timing of the allegations also raised their own questions for Councilman Rafi Manoukian, who noted from the dais Tuesday that the motion to discuss Sinanyan’s commission removal came during an increasingly competitive City Council race.
“Let me remind everyone that it is campaign season and this particular gentleman is running for a council seat, as are two of my colleagues here,” said Manoukian, who has endorsed Sinanyan. “Election season's here, I guess. It’s been here for a while, but here we go.”