AS IF YOU ASKED
In recent weeks, I’ve teased some city movers and shakers for their
discomfort in finding worthy picks to endorse in the City Council
race. I’m actually sorry some of those jokes have come at the expense
of candidates whose biggest supposed “negative” is that they haven’t
immersed themselves in City Hall.
But I’ll come back to that later, because one group out there had
NO trouble making picks. In fact, Burbank’s chapter of the Armenian
National Committee made too many.
The Armenian National Committee is something of a cross between a
political party and the lobbying arm of an Armenian political party.
Armenians and Armenian Americans are traditionally less partisan than
many of us are used to, more apt to vote for candidates and platforms
rather than by party labels. Even leaders of local ANC chapters have
told me they can’t claim to represent more than 5% to 10% percent of
local Armenian Americans.
Census figures don’t break out citizens of Armenian heritage, and
estimates of that local population veer wildly. There’s a constant
search for the fine line between a credible estimate that will entice
politicians with a potential voting bloc, and a figure that is a
Still, there’s no question the ANC is the most visible
representative of a significant Armenian-American community. A list
of interests specific to the ANC in Burbank is much the same as that
for any minority group in any city. The ANC would like to see city
employee ranks reflect the arguable Armenian-American population in
Burbank; a youth and athletic center aimed at diverting Armenian kids
from gang influences; and training for city workers -- especially
police officers -- to discourage ethnic stereotyping.
The ANC’s questionnaire for candidates also asked for comments on
the Section 8 subsidies and affordable housing programs, and about
establishing a “sister-city” relationship in Armenia. The ANC asked
candidates for their positions on installing a memorial to the
Armenian Genocide in a Burbank park, a proposal fraught with
controversy and highly emotional debate.
Also, like virtually any other minority political group, many
observers believe endorsements from local chapters of the ANC
strongly favor Armenians before the questions have even been asked.
The ANC has endorsed non-Armenians, but when Armenians are running,
most seem virtually certain to win an ANC nod.
Ultimately, Burbank’s ANC chapter endorsed candidates Jef Vander
Borght, Gary Bric and Vahe Hovanessian for City Council. It’s a point
that can sometimes slip past the best of us, but the problem is that
only two seats are up for election, and the ANC has made three picks.
(The ANC also endorsed three candidates for school board, and three
seats are up for election there.)
My calls to Burbank’s chapter of the ANC were not immediately
returned, so there’s no way to know whether picking a trio was an
embarrassing oversight or an implicit confession there were more good
choices than there are seats. Frankly, given human nature and
politics, one has to expect the ANC will categorically reject the
former, and earnestly assure us the latter explains the group’s
As mentioned previously, when I sat to watch last week’s forum of
council and school board candidates hosted by the local chapter of
the League of Women Voters, I was suffering from a painful abscessed
tooth. My reactions were so hostile I thought it better to reserve
judgment until after a dentist had done his cruel and evil work on
That work was done, and I sat to watch a tape of the forum. This
time, I suspect the candidates enjoyed the benefit of another
extreme. Painkillers had me grinning amiably to almost everything
most of them had to say. Perhaps most significantly, I was able to
shake off an insidious premise that had, with the passage of time,
become part of my fabric.
There was a day when I firmly believed council candidates did not
need to be experts on city operations, or recording machines that can
spew accurate dates and dollar amounts on command. I allowed that a
strong set of principles was enough to qualify a candidate, and that
experience touted by some candidates was really a euphemism for
having gotten so close to the trees that they couldn’t see the
Alas, I was among those who first looked at the current crop of
council candidates and was appalled to realize only one of the nine
has significant experience in City Hall. Many of the others never set
foot in City Hall for any purpose before announcing a desire to sit
in the city’s highest office.
Watching the forum, I realized most of the neophyte candidates
were moved by some development or series of problems, and the desire
to provide common-sense solutions. Though I’ve allowed myself to veer
from those roots, the forum reminded me that familiar motivation
makes them every bit as viable as any incumbent running for a third
The neophytes did reveal lots of ignorance. It was frustrating to
hear repeated mentions of City Hall having “helped” bring the Empire
Center and Costco to Burbank, referring to those traffic boondoggles
with low- paying jobs as an example of skewed priorities. I’d agree,
if only the city had lured the businesses.
Private land was for sale, a developer bought it and developed it,
and the businesses came. Bing-bang-boom. The city’s role was in
processing applications and permits. Surely more forethought could
have been given to some aspects such as zoning, but many candidates
are clearly under the mistaken belief the city paid incentives,
planned the projects, handed out scads of variances, and so on.
A couple of candidates also fell into familiar political traps.
Asked about potential budget cuts, one man declared some would be
necessary, but urgently pledged to oppose any that have an impact on
the police or fire departments, city services or city employees. I’m
not sure what’s left, but I doubt it could amount to more than $40.
Still, I was pleased to watch the forum and see that, assuming
some experienced colleagues and staff will fill in newcomers on the
major gaps in their knowledge, almost any interest group in Burbank
could find a couple of worthy candidates in the pool available. None
of them has been caught in a lie about their background or unfairly
smeared a competitor. Indeed, if we can view the lack of experience
as a lack of prejudice and rigidity, perhaps this is better than most
of the candidate fields we’ve seen in recent years.
OK. Maybe I took one too many of those pain pills.
* WILL ROGERS’ column appears in every edition of the Leader. He
can be reached 24 hours a day at 637-3200, voice mail ext. 906, or
by e-mail at email@example.com or at