GLENDALE ? A campaign mailing and phone calls linking Assembly candidate Paul Krekorian and the Armenian National Committee to a terrorism suspect convicted of weapons charges has many community leaders outraged and some crying racism.
The calls and mailers, sent out by the Oakland-based California Latino Leadership Fund, were delivered to thousands of Glendale and Burbank area voters in the days leading up to Tuesday's primary. The mailers feature a mug shot of Mourad Topalian, a former Armenian National Committee chairman who pleaded guilty for possession of stolen explosives and two machine guns in Ohio in 2000, according to FBI records.
The postcard-sized campaign piece also states that Krekorian accepted the Armenian National Committee's endorsement in his run for the State Assembly and helped get "[Armenian National Committee] books and literature into libraries for schoolchildren."
"It is very sad whenever any campaign is tainted with tactics that appeal to hatred and bigotry," Krekorian said. "I think people care about what matters to all Californians, which is improving education, providing healthcare to everyone and protecting the environment ? not personal attacks and character assassination."
The Armenian National Committee "books and literature" cited in the mailer were actually 1,000 books in Armenian and English about Armenian culture and history that were donated to the Burbank Library system at the request of library officials to expand their international section, he said, adding that the Burbank City Council honored his wife Tamar Krekorian and the committee for their efforts in securing the books.
The sinister undertone of the mailings contrast sharply with the true spirit of the Armenian National Committee, said Zanku Armenian, board member of the committee's Western Region based in Glendale.
Topalian, who the FBI suspect was a leader of the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide, resigned his post after the charges surfaced, Armenian said.
"We live in a country in which you are innocent until proven guilty," Armenian said, adding that Topalian was never convicted of terrorism charges, only weapons possession. "At the time he was chairman and started having these troubles, he resigned so he could deal with his personal issues without dragging down the [Armenian National Committee]. These matters have nothing to do with the organization, which has a mission to represent and give voice to the Armenian American community within the American political system."
Armenian further suggested that Krekorian's opponent for the democratic nomination, City Councilman Frank Quintero, and outgoing 43rd Assembly District Rep. Dario Frommer, who has endorsed Quintero, were somehow connected to the mailers.
"We had been hearing rumblings coming from Sacramento that Quintero and Frommer had a 'killer issue' that would swing the race and we were hoping our information was wrong, but it is now our firm belief that Quintero knew all about it," he said. "We believe that they were firmly behind the scenes and this sort of dirty campaign tactics are the last gasp of breath of a failing candidate at the end of his political career."
Under state law it would be illegal for Quintero's campaign to coordinate with a separate entity on an independent expenditure such as the mailers in question. The California Latino Leadership Fund spent more than $18,000 in independent expenditures opposing Krekorian, and more than $30,000 on similar expenditures to support Quintero, according to campaign finance records from the Secretary of State's office.
Both Frommer and Quintero denied any knowledge or involvement with the Latino Leadership Fund or its activities, and each sent letters to fund officials expressing the disapproval of the mailer.
"I am disgusted that this organization, which by law has no affiliation with my campaign, has sent out such a hurtful message," Quintero said in a statement. "The mailer does not reflect anything that I believe in or stand for."
California Latino Leadership Fund officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The group has received funding from tribal gaming groups, Pacific Gas and Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Inc., and Cendant Corp., among others.
The mailings and phone campaign have done much to damage the relationship between Glendale's Armenian and Latino communities, Glendale Unified School District Board member Mary Boger said.
"The city and school district have worked closely together to create harmony in our community," said Boger, who received the controversial phone calls at her home. "Whomsoever is responsible for this hate mail and hate speech has undermined years of work and has no right to seek a leadership position."
Glendale Community College Trustee Victor King, Glendale Democratic Club President Laurie Collins and Glendale Historical Commission Chairwoman Deborah Dentler also released a statement condemning the phone calls and mailings.