Start the Presses: Some debatable concerns

On Thursday evening, I had the opportunity to be on Larry Zarian's television show. The primary topic of conversation was the 43rd District Assembly race, a contest, like so many others, that has become increasingly focused on nonsense rather than issues.

The Republican candidate, Sunder Ramani, had been on the show a week prior, and Zarian, a former Glendale mayor, had invited the Democratic candidate and incumbent, Mike Gatto, to be on the show. In fact, Thursday's show was originally conceived as a debate, moderated by myself, between the two men.

Gatto, through his aides, told me that he did not feel comfortable going on Zarian's show, as its host is a supporter of Ramani. Zarian, a Republican, has publicly said he and Ramani are friends, and campaign finance records show Zarian contributed $99 to Ramani's campaign.

Gatto's chief aide, Stacey Brenner, mentioned to me an incident where Zarian appeared to have intentionally embarrassed Gatto. Zarian, during a Memorial Day speech in Glendale, attempted to announce Gatto despite knowing, Brenner said, the candidate was not in attendance.

(Though I cannot speak to what Zarian knew, I certainly can say that Gatto was not at the Glendale Memorial Day event. This is because he attended the Burbank one. I saw him myself.)

Brenner also mentioned that during an earlier debate on Zarian's show, Gatto was not permitted to give an opening statement while Ramani was able to give his. For all these reasons, and due to the fact Gatto was already booked that night, he would not be interested in taking part in a debate, Brenner said.

This last point troubles me. Perhaps Gatto and his aides believe the Leader is somehow biased against him because of Zarian's show. The fact that Gatto was not able to give his statement was an error, truly, but it was not intentional. To my mind, there is something else at work, and these are simply conflated concerns.

Lest you think I'm picking on Gatto, this goes to the other side as well. Ramani and his supporters have repeatedly questioned our work, particularly a series of stories investigating whether he lives in Burbank — as he claims — or La Cañada Flintridge, which is outside the 43rd District. Stories of this type seem to be rampant this year, from Richard Alarcon in Los Angeles to Phu Nguyen in Orange County. Ramani, I want to point out, was more than willing to take part in the debate.

Here's my take: I believe that Gatto and his camp did not want to debate because he would have had no advantage in doing so. He won the June special election against Ramani by a significant margin, a victory that permitted him to take on the mantle of incumbent.

In addition, Democratic registration outnumbers that of Republicans about 2 to 1. Gatto's biggest concern going into November, frankly, is to not do something stupid. Many a politician has stepped in it on live TV, and many a politician has paid the price for doing so. Ramani has much less to lose, as he faces an increasingly uphill climb in this race.

Participating in a debate would be an opportunity for Ramani to increase his visibility, but it would be a risk for Gatto. Many more people would have tuned in to listen to Ramani and Gatto debate the issues than watched, I'm sure, Zarian and me talk.

Zarian said on the show that he felt the voters were ill served by Gatto's decision, especially since I was slated to moderate. But I'm not taking it personally, as I believe Gatto's concerns would not have kept him away were he down in the polls.

Still, it certainly would have been nice to hear what they both had to say — debates, after all, are about the closest thing news reporters get to sporting matches. Despite the lost opportunity, there is a wealth of information about this race and the candidates on our website. Check them out at http://www.burbankleader.com/news/election. .

Reading about the candidates, whether from us or other sources, is a vital part of the decision-making process. It is a shame that so much of the information in this race has strayed from the issues, but you as the voter still have the tools to find out what they really think. You will just have to work a bit harder, I'm afraid.

Dan Evans is the editor. Reach him at dan.evans@latimes.com

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