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Racial Relations Forum Angers Council Incumbents : Temple Sinai Accused of Political Ambush

Times Staff Writer

The two incumbents in the Glendale City Council election last week accused leaders of the city’s only Jewish synagogue of staging a political ambush and discriminating against Christians by holding a candidates’ forum on racial relations.

Mayor Carl Raggio and Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg refused to attend the Sunday morning forum held at Temple Sinai on North Pacific Avenue. In a press conference two days before the forum, Raggio and Bremberg said they thought it was designed to aid the campaign of Robin Westmiller, who is Jewish.

The forum organizers said they were shocked by the accusations, which they emphatically denied.

Bremberg and Raggio cited several reasons for not attending, including the “insensitivity” of holding a political meeting at a time when Christians are going to church.

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“I perceive this as a subtle or not so subtle form of discrimination,” said Bremberg, one of 13 candidates running for three council seats in the April 4 election.

Meeting of Sunday Criticized

“The purpose of the forum is to communicate with the public and the public at large is being excluded” by scheduling the meeting on Sunday morning, Raggio added.

The two incumbents further charged that they were being set up. “When I was invited to the forum, I was told to be prepared to be attacked,” Bremberg said, with Raggio nodding in agreement. “I feel it’s a setup.”

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Bremberg said the forum had been orchestrated to help Westmiller, a member of the temple’s sisterhood. “She set it up to make all of the other candidates look as though we’re intolerant and bigoted,” she said.

Temple leaders said the forum was organized in response to Jewish concerns about human relations, especially in light of a December, 1987, incident in which swastikas and anti-Semitic remarks were painted on the temple.

They denied staging the event for Westmiller, who sits on the city’s Human Relations Council.

As for scheduling the event on a Sunday morning, temple officials acknowledged that it was a mistake but said none of the candidates raised any objections when they were invited.

At the Friday news conference, Bremberg and Raggio acknowledged that they never requested a schedule change.

Challengers Dick Jutras, Richard Matthews, P. E. Dorris and Gary Siglar also pulled out at the last minute, reducing the panel to seven candidates.

Statement Read

Before the forum began, temple representative Rosalie McKee read a prepared statement addressing the controversy: “Some candidates have declined to appear. We regret any misunderstanding which may have been caused by our efforts to open our meeting to the larger community. Had we known that the timing of our program created any discomfort, we would have rescheduled in an effort to accommodate all concerned.”

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The forum was scheduled in place of the temple’s so-called bagel brunches, a monthly morning event with invited speakers. Bremberg was the guest speaker at one such Sunday brunch in 1987, forum organizer Gayle Moskowitz said.

“The only conclusion I can reach is that Bremberg and Raggio are dodging the issue” of human relations, said Selma Stevens, vice president of the Sisterhood of Temple Sinai.

The forum proved to be much less controversial than the incumbents’ accusations, with all participants basically agreeing that the city needs to keep working to improve human relations.

50 in Attendance

About 50 people attended and the candidates spoke about such topics as hate crimes, day laborers, the homeless, immigration and bilingual education.

Public relations executive Berdj Karapetian proposed the creation of an interfaith, multi-ethnic commission to serve as a liaison between the minority communities and the City Council.

Landscaper Richard Seely emphasized the need to educate children about different cultures at school to avoid the formation of racial stereotypes.

Real estate broker Joe Ayvazi said he was against bilingual education because “the sooner the immigrant learns the English language, the sooner he can take advantage of the great opportunities this country has to offer.”

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Attorney Shirley Griffin said the city should take hate crimes more seriously. “Don’t forget the lessons of history,” she warned, referring to the Holocaust.

Former Planning Commission member Nida Solana Brown, a daughter of Spanish immigrants, said she learned ethnic tolerance while growing up in a culturally diverse New York City neighborhood.

Council Criticized

Westmiller, who runs a public speakers’ bureau, said the City Council had failed to keep its promise of improving minority hiring and promotion practices.

The Temple Sinai meeting was the second candidates’ forum held last week. On Wednesday evening, the 11 Republican candidates presented their platforms before the Glendale-Verdugo Republican Assembly.

After the forum, the Assembly endorsed the two incumbents and real estate broker Joe Ayvazi. Richard Seeley, a Democrat, and Berdj Karapetian, noncommitted, were not invited to speak.


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