Hecklers’ cries spur organizers to shut down Burbank congressional debate

Organizers cut short on Wednesday night a heated debate between candidates vying for seats in the 28th and 30th Congressional districts after numerous interruptions from the audience.

The League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank had planned to ask each candidate at least 12 questions during the forum, which was held in the Burbank City Council chambers. The candidates were 28th District incumbent Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and his Republican opponent, Johnny Nalbandian, and 30th District incumbent Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and his GOP opponent, Mark Reed, who has run against Sherman three times previously.

However, the audience of about 100 people, some of whom were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, yelled angrily whenever Schiff or Sherman spoke, claiming that the Democratic candidates were “liars,” “skunks” and “racists.”

Mary Dickson, president of the local League of Women Voters chapter, Rita Zwern, the debate’s moderator, and other members of the organization tried to plead with audience members to refrain from interrupting, but their efforts didn’t work.

It got to the point where two Burbank police officers had to watch over the meeting, and a member of the audience had to be escorted out after refusing to settle down.

Dickson and Zwern said they eventually decided the disruptions would no longer be tolerated and the forum had to be cut short.

“It’s been one of the most loudest and disrupted forums we’ve ever had,” Dickson said. “People weren’t listening to all of the candidates. They had their own agenda, I’m afraid.”

Zwern, who has been moderating debates for the League of Women Voters for 15 years, said that it was the worst debate she has had to oversee.

The last event she thinks comes close was a forum in 2010, when the chambers and lobby were filled. However, organizers were able to get through that debate with only minor interruptions.

She added that people who wanted to watch the debate were shortchanged.

“When we have a debate like we had tonight, I just feel so badly for everyone,” Zwern said. “We tried so hard to give everybody an equal chance and to have a forum that’s informative for the voters. That is our goal. Even I feel personally cheated tonight.”

The candidates were asked eight questions during the forum, but some of the questions went unanswered due to interruptions from the audience or candidates defending themselves.

During the opening statements, Reed immediately accused Sherman of allowing sexual misconduct in his district office.

Matt Dababneh, a former state Assemblyman and Sherman’s former aide, is currently being investigated for allegedly forcing a lobbyist into a bathroom and masturbating in front of her, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Sherman fired back and said that Reed is making up the accusations. He also pointed out that Reed has never gotten 40% of the vote when running against him in the past.

When asked about refugee admissions and immigration, Schiff said he doesn’t support any of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, adding that he believes Trump has vilified immigrants.

Schiff said it is important to reform immigration policies so they create an orderly immigration process that protects Dreamers and their families.

Nalbandian said that “illegals” have been taking over the spaces currently occupied by homeless veterans, adding that Democrats have been hypocritical on immigration policies.

Sherman said the United States should be welcoming and that, in order for immigration reform to pass, residents will need to agree with policies they otherwise would not agree with.

Reed said Sherman and Schiff have not done anything to make changes to immigration policies, adding there hasn’t been any “political will” from either party to do so because both sides like cheap immigrant labor.

Twitter: @acocarpio