AS IF YOU ASKED
Hooray, the election is over! Now we can look forward to the
Regular readers know Burbank’s municipal elections are a two-step
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
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.
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
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
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
* 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.