Emily Gabel-Luddy, a member of the Burbank Planning Board who faced strong opposition from a local employees’ union, narrowly won a seat on the Burbank City Council Tuesday night, edging Burbank Police Commissioner Robert Frutos by 86 votes.
The unofficial tally showed Gabel-Luddy receiving 4,400 votes to Frutos’ 4,314. The 16% voter turnout was below average for municipal elections in Burbank since 2003, but higher than the 14.3% of registered voters who cast ballots in the Feb. 22 primary.
As results rolled in Tuesday night, the lead see-sawed several times, with Frutos and then Gabel-Luddy ahead, often by fewer than 100 votes.
Gabel-Luddy, a former city planner in Los Angeles, said she would focus on bridging the city’s anticipated $8.3 million budget gap in the coming year and on keeping Burbank’s business community vibrant.
She said she was “pleased and honored” with the outcome. Gabel-Luddy, who has been on the Planning Board for 10 years, said it was nerve-racking to watch the lead shift back and forth, but said she felt confident toward the end that her late lead would survive. She will take office in early May.
Gabel-Luddy had a fundraising edge in the race, receiving more than $21,000 from supporters compared to $15,500 for Frutos. But Frutos benefitted from $42,000 in independent expenditures from Local 18 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents approximately 138 city employees.
Gabel-Luddy said she comes from a union background and was surprised by the IBEW's vigorous effort on her rival's behalf.
“I was very puzzled by the amount of money the IBEW spent on negative campaigning,” she said.
On the campaign trail, she said she heard again and again from residents who are seeking transparency from the city and who believe the city should not be spending money on employee bonuses during a time of severe fiscal constraints.
In the February primary, incumbent Gary Bric easily won reelection, garnering more than 50% of the vote. Frutos and Gabel-Luddy finished second and third, respectively, forcing Tuesday’s runoff. Current Mayor Anja Reinke decided not to seek reelection, putting her seat on the dais up for grabs.
Frutos is a Los Angeles Police Department officer who has served on the Police Commission for eight years. He could not be reached for comment.
Gabel-Luddy joins the council at a time of budget austerity. In addition to an expected $8.3 million shortfall, the city is also preparing to pay a $10.7 million increase in its annual pension obligations, which will reach more than $35 million next fiscal year.
Several last-minute voters said they supported Gabel-Luddy and did not appreciate the union’s role in the race.
Kris Jones cast his vote for Gabel-Luddy at about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, 15 minutes before the polls closed.
“The main reason is she was not supported by the union,” he said.
But Saro Ghazarian said he decided to vote for Frutos, in part, because of his endorsements — specifically the Armenian National Committee of America, Burbank.
“One reason I voted for [Frutos] is because the ANC is supporting him,” he said.