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Holding one election so we can have two

AS IF YOU ASKED

Hooray, the election is over! Now we can look forward to the

election!

Regular readers know Burbank’s municipal elections are a two-step

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process, and yesterday’s primary was the first. As I write this, the

polls haven’t even closed yet. But candidates who won more than 50%

of the votes automatically win their seat, and will take office May

1. The top two finishers for each remaining vacancy will continue to

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the general election April 8.

Residents who don’t read this newspaper or otherwise monitor local

politics and politicians were doubtless puzzled by the recent spate

of campaign signs, this so soon after November’s statewide brawl.

They’ll probably be more bewildered to find there’s yet another

election in a few weeks. It’s a reality often forgotten by activists,

community players and other City Hall followers: The unaware make up

by far the largest segment of Burbank’s population.

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Without reliable surveys, exit polls and the other trappings of

hot contests, your guess as to yesterday’s results would be as good

as mine. Conventional wisdom has held that Councilman Jef Vander

Borght, an incumbent by virtue of having been appointed to the

council when a member resigned last year, is the one council hopeful

with a chance of being a council member-elect today.

Vander Borght ran a campaign so clean it sparkled, and his

gentlemanly manner never cracked. In council meetings, he did develop

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a habit of announcing he agrees with literally every person on every

side of even the most contentious issues. And he’s taken to offering

comments so lengthy that some people long for the relative quiet of

the notoriously verbose mayor, David Laurell. But those have been

mere quirks that are expected to fade if he’s been elected.

After that, the prevalence of lawn signs is the only indicator of

popularity. By that standard, council finishers could include Brian

Malone, Todd Campbell, Gary Bric or Kisa Kirkpatrick. But signs are a

poor barometer, as many past losers can attest.

In terms of noise made, Michael Bergfeld was a front-runner,

leveling charges of incompetence and general stupidity against

virtually everyone in City Hall. In the campaign’s only televised

forum, and in other venues, Bergfeld made it clear Vander Borght was

his target. But Vander Borght never rose to the bait, leaving

Bergfeld to look like a rabid dog frustrated that no one would run

from him in terror.

I spoke with several candidates about their experience going door

to door looking for votes, and all of them offered identical reports.

Every candidate maintained that, even in neighborhoods adjacent to

the airport, no one asked about airport issues, supposedly the urgent

concern of virtually every resident. Every candidate I spoke to

agreed traffic congestion is far and away the most significant

concern of people they talked to. I’m glad I’m not alone.

As for the school board race, if City Hall issues and election

battles escape the notice of many, those paying strict attention to

and passionate about school district races might be outnumbered by

the local membership of the “Star Trek” fan club. Again, as of

yesterday, conventional wisdom held that incumbent members Richard

Raad, Elena Hubbell and Mike McDonald, would, at worst, survive into

the runoff. At best (at least from their point of view), one or more

could have won a seat outright.

Improving those odds, the last several board meetings have served

as campaign events for the trio, with district staff faithfully (and

purely coincidentally -- wink, wink) serving up reports clearing

incumbents of charges leveled by challengers. And at the last

postelection board meeting, board president Raad made a subtle yet

telling change, indicating at least some belated, vague awareness of

criticisms.

After critics aired complaints during the public-comment period,

Raad abandoned the longtime tradition of first asking district staff

to respond to speakers. The practice has always reinforced

perceptions board members have a tenuous grasp on the facts and

independent thought, and must rely on staff for covering fire.

Typically, once the staff has finished, board members take turns

parroting what staff has said, and scolding critics. But last week

Raad invited his colleagues to speak first.

Unfortunately, his colleagues either promptly asked staff for

information or simply scolded speakers without offering facts. In a

shining example, McDonald answered a critic’s allegation of

open-meeting laws being ignored. After a patronizing tale about how

he handles his sons when one cries over what another has done, he

wrapped up by declaring “our lawyer wrote a letter about that.”

Whew! With that dizzying torrent of irrefutable facts and

arguments, I guess he showed us what for! There was an even more

significant example of the board’s ongoing disconnect from its duties

and the community, but I’ll cover that urgent development in an

upcoming column, regardless of the election outcome.

As for board challengers, the most prominent was the trio of Paul

Krekorian, Dave Kemp and Larry Applebaum, loudly endorsed and

promoted by the Burbank Teachers Assn. Krekorian, once a candidate

for state Assembly, had to overcome suspicions of political

career-building. Kemp had easily the best organized and most active

team of supporters outside the BTA, and Applebaum might have gone

virtually unnoticed if it weren’t for the BTA.

Ted Bunch, a former teacher who lost a board race once before, ran

this time without boasting he was a shoo-in thanks to his lifelong

residency and all the former students who would surely vote for him.

This time he was more self- deprecating, so it will be interesting to

see how his numbers compare.

I’m also interested in seeing how Roland Armstorff has done. He

offered more specific ideas than any other candidate, both for school

funding and curriculum. But some were definitely “outside the box,”

and I’m curious to see how voters responded.

This campaign season was among the cleanest in years, but it also

provided fewer chances to hear from and compare candidates than I can

recall ever before. If anything is done differently on the road to

April’s runoff, let’s hope it’s that many more local organizations

and groups gather finalists together for useful and well-publicized

opportunities to hear them fully address issues of the day.

As one example, consider that Friday is the last official day of

work for the man who has been Burbank’s chief executive for the past

18 years, Bud Ovrom, and we have yet to hear what each council

candidate thinks should be the priorities and process for selecting a

replacement.

* 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 will.rogers@latimes.com or willrogersemail@earthlink.net.


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