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Zareh Sinanyan keeps seat for now

Under pointed questioning before the City Council he is campaigning to join, city commissioner Zareh Sinanyan on Tuesday refused to deny that he was the author behind threatening and racist comments posted online under his name, saying only that they do not reflect him as a person.

"The words attributed to me are not me. They do not represent who I am as a person," he said. "They do not reflect my values, my ideals."

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Sinanyan, a Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee member who is considered a front-runner in the City Council race, called a proposal to strip him of his commission seat a well-orchestrated smear campaign because of the comments.

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Councilwoman Laura Friedman, Councilman Ara Najarian and Mayor Frank Quintero asked for the discussion to be brought before the council last week. Friedman and Najarian are both seeking to keep their seats in the April 2 election.

When asked point blank whether he wrote the comments — which on YouTube referred mostly Armenia's geopolitical enemies as "lazy," "degenerate thieves," "dirty" and more vulgar terms — he refused, adding that he had not seen the comments council members were referring to.

"Saying that they don't represent you is very different than saying that you didn't write them," said Friedman.

Sinanyan went on to say: "I'm investigating this issue and trying to understand."

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Since news of the comments broke, Sinanyan has lost several high-profile endorsements, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, and both Los Angeles mayoral run-off candidates, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Gruel.

The comments were attributed to Sinanyan through a web of online profiles that allegedly lead back to the YouTube comments from two to five years ago made under his name.

The comments, which Quintero described as hate speech, lead to a YouTube profile made by the username "gazanutyun," but that profile at one time listed a "Zareh Sinanyan" as the user. It has since been changed back to "gazanutyun."

As soon as some of the comments were linked to a Glendale News-Press story online, many were deleted.

Sinanyan also called someone "idiotic" and dropped an ethnic slur against Mongolians via a personal Facebook profile in 2012.

While the council discussion was focused on Sinanyan's commission seat, Sinanyan's supporters quickly turned the public comment period into an attack on Friedman, who first introduced the motion. The crowd of about 90 heckled her several times during the proceeding.

"I'm disappointed that I would be attacked for bringing up hate speech, very serious, very disturbing hate speech," Friedman said.

At one point, in response to her claim that she was not responsible for the reaction to the alleged comments, Sinanyan got out of his seat and whispered to his supporters: "She's lying."

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In the end, the council unanimously decided to take no action, and tabled stripping Sinanyan of his commission seat.

"The election will decide everything," Councilman Dave Weaver said.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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