Ron Kaye: Getting along to run the city

Everybody loves cops and firefighters who protect our lives and property so when you get a slate mailer in the middle of a heated election campaign that looks like these public servants are supporting candidates based on their personal merits, you probably take it seriously.

Not so in the case of "Glendale Firefighters for Better Government," a totally misleading moniker for a business run out of a modest house in Long Beach. Still, City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian and other candidates coughed up as much as $1,000 for the privilege of being listed as getting its support.

Not so in the case of slate mailers with the headline "Glendale Law Enforcement Voter Guide" over the photo of a cop in his patrol car. In almost invisibly tiny print, it carries a tiny disclaimer saying, "Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement of others appearing in this mailer, nor does it imply endorsement of, or opposition to, any issues set forth in this mailer. Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an *."

The address given for the origin of the mailer is 4700 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1050b, Los Angeles, which happens to be the office of David Gould, a professional campaign treasurer for Kassakhian and several other candidates in this election.

Elections, even in suburban towns, aren't quite what they were in the good old days. Consider the $51,670 that the Chicago-based National Assn. of Realtors Fund spent on behalf of local Realtor Rick Barnes.

Fortunately, money doesn't always talk. Barnes finished seventh in a field of 12, just behind Edith Fuentes and ahead of Mike Mohill, according to the unofficial tally.

Kassakian won re-election easily. Councilman Rafi Manoukian ran unopposed for city treasurer, putting all his efforts into a $20,000 campaign to crush Measure A that would have eliminated his new post as an elected position.

The top vote-getters in the City Council and school board races were both Armenians — incumbents Ara Najarian and Greg Krikorian.

Zareh Sinanyan and Chahe Keuroghelian ran third and fourth for the three council seats and Armina Gharpetian captured third place for the three school board seats, helping to push incumbent Joylene Wagner down to fifth among seven candidates, although the outcomes won't be final until 3,500 mail-in and provisional ballots are tallied.

"It was a watershed election in the Armenian community when so many factors came together and resulted in higher turnout," said political consultant Eric Hacopian, who has strong ties in Glendale.

He believes Assemblyman Mike Gatto's targeting of Armenian Democrats back in January at the 43rd Assembly delegate selection meeting, compounded by Councilwoman Laura Friedman's public confrontation with candidate Zareh Sinanyan over purportedly racist and sexist remarks he posted online some years ago, helped to galvanize many in the community that normally would not have voted.

"Voters always know when there is antagonism toward them and they respond when they think they are being targeted or disrespected with higher turnout. It happened with Latino voters last November and on a local level with Armenian voters last Tuesday," Hacopian said.

Going through the contribution lists at, it is clear this was a very expensive election for Armenians, who provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance the campaigns of candidates from their community from the top on down.

"We've seen Armenian ballot box power before, but this was special," Najarian said. "The community made a very focused effort to get the people out to vote."

Certainly, the campaign highlight video would showcase the council meeting where Sinanyan, thought to be an early favorite for the open seat created by Mayor Frank Quintero's retirement, seemed to crash and burn in refusing to deny or repudiate ugly remarks attributed to him in a YouTube video despite Friedman's prosecutorial approach to questioning him.

"They pulled out all the stops and put tons of resources into Sinanyan's campaign as the [Armenian National Committee] candidate" Najarian said. "He needed a strong Armenian turnout."

If Sinanyan's 262-vote lead for the third seat survives through the final tally, it will be interesting to see whether he and Friedman, who finished second nearly 2,000 votes behind Najarian, work together or work against each other and exacerbate the rift that exists in the community.

The first test might come over who the council appoints to replace Manoukian, who is moving to a full-time job as treasurer, or whether a costly special election is held to find a successor.

In the interim, the problem of dealing with the changes falls to City Manager Scott Ochoa just as he faces difficult questions about next year's budget and possible electric rate increases.

"My mantra with council members is they don't have to get along with one another or like one another, but they do have to work with each other respectfully and agree to disagree, and do it agreeably. That means we as staff can do our job of serving the public," he said.

"The moment the council gets dysfunctional, you start to see the erosion of a level of dedication, commitment and professionalism within the organization and outside the organization. If they can set a positive, constructive forward-thinking tone — where merit matters, professionalism matters, integrity matters — it doesn't matter one iota what you are.

"The beauty of cities is that cities have to solve problems. And if they don't, they are dysfunctional toxic cities … and everybody knows it," Ochoa said.

Let that be a warning to one and all — or just take a drive across the city line into Los Angeles and see what happens when racial and ethnic divisions, and selfish interests, triumph over the shared sense of being part of something greater than ourselves.

It's the beauty and the ugliness of cities.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World