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Apathy, lack of candidate forums contribute to low election interest

With the mail-in ballots for the April 12 general election out, the voter response could be even lower than the 14.3% who participated in the primary.

The tepid response, some politicos say, can probably be attributed to the quiet Burbank campaign culture, where just one election forum is organized for the citywide races for school board and City Council.

Even as ballots were sent out on Tuesday, the two council run-off candidates, Bob Frutos and Emily Gabel-Luddy, continued to make phone calls, send e-mails and knock on the doors of prospective voters in an attempt to drum up election interest.

“I’m disappointed, and I think it’s important to have another forum before the General Election to learn about the issues,” Frutos said.


Candidates participated in a single forum before the primary election, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank and broadcast on television from Burbank City Hall.

In Glendale, it’s a whole different ballgame in which candidates, especially for City Council, could be asked to participate in roughly a dozen election forums hosted by a wide cross section of the community, from homeowners associations to industry groups.

Between talking to voters and managing their campaigns, candidates participate in around one dozen forums hosted by community groups.

“To get ready for the forums, mentally, really takes a lot of your time and you have to be 100% on your game,” said Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian, who was first elected to the City Council in 2005. “Mixed in with that, there’s a little bit of boredom from hearing the same questions, and sprinkle in your other life, it’s a difficult two months.”


The volatility of the campaign rhetoric and rigor of candidate supporters is also far more energetic in Glendale.

“It’s not a period I look forward to or look back fondly on,” Najarian added.

Part of the reason could be the difference in city make-up, Burbank City Manager Mike Flad said.

“Burbank is less neighborhood-centric and more of a homogenous area compared to Glendale,” Flad said. “I’m not entirely sure why, but I know it has always been a pretty small number.”

The Burbank Assn. of Realtors has hosted community forums for City Council and school board candidates in the past, but opted for meet-and-greet sessions this year due to the smaller candidate pool, organizers said.

“We didn’t want to do something just for the sake of doing it,” said the association’s legislative committee chairman Michael Napolitano. “We also have to consider the timing because with an all mail-in ballot, some of them get mailed in pretty early.”

The feedback from members this election cycle has been generally positive because the meeting allowed face time with candidates, as opposed to listening to broader community responses, he added.

Napolitano also cited the short amount of time to organize a forum between the time the ballots are mailed and the time they’re due back at City Hall.


The Burbank Chamber of Commerce also used to host a community candidate forum, an event Burbank Business Partners Chairwoman Lisa Rawlins believes is missed.

“I think the community would really be served with more opportunities to see the candidates,” Rawlins said.

The chamber declined to comment on the issue.

Chris Carson, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank, said that the low number of candidates has affected voter interest in the election, adding that she was surprised to find out their Jan. 19 forum was the only one of its kind in the city.

Others cited voter fatigue and general apathy.

“The reasons I’ve heard never include, ‘I didn’t know about the election,’” said City Clerk Margarita Campos. “It just wasn’t a priority for them.”