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Glendale and Burbank political races impacted by social media

Before P.J. Gaynard goes to the voting booth, he admits that he typically doesn't know much about local politicians. But the 37-year-old Glendale resident is glued to Twitter and Facebook, and that's where he found Glendale City Council candidate Roland Kedikian.

That connection meant one more person watched Kedikian's nearly three-minute campaign video and left this post: “I think it really says something about how you feel about reaching people in 2013!”

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Elections experts agree social media is an ideal tool for reaching voters. It is cost-effective and interactive, but the degree to which local candidates are taking notice has varied wildly this year.

In the Glendale and Burbank city council races, just about half the candidates use Facebook. In the school board races, all but one of 11 candidates use Facebook. Of the entire batch, just two use Twitter.

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Those who have chosen to forgo social media cite time and staffing constraints.

“It's just a function of the number of hours in the day, to tell you the truth,” said Dave Golonski, an incumbent who has served on the Burbank City Council for 20 years.

Others just prefer the old-school method of campaigning.

“My campaign is knocking on doors, handing out brochures and going to all the merchants,” Glendale City Council candidate Mike Mohill said.

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Burbank City Council incumbent David Gordon also prefers door-knocking to tweets and Facebook posts.

“It is a whole big enterprise running a campaign,” he said. “Unless you're well-versed in social media and have the ability to monitor it … it's an additional task.”

But in terms of connecting with voters, it can be a task with a large payoff.

“When I was walking, I'd knock on 200 doors and talk to five people,” said Burbank Unified school board candidate David Dobson. “If I could reach 6,000 people on Facebook, or if 100 people saw me, that was still better.”

The site is especially helpful with informing younger voters, said Lori Cox Han, a political science professor at Chapman University.

That's why Burbank City Council incumbent Jess Talamantes created a Facebook page.

“A lot of the young voters are on Facebook, Twitter — that's the way they communicate,” he said.

But with younger voters still far outnumbered at the polls, some candidates say it doesn't make much sense to spend resources trying to reach them, at least at the local level.

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“Maybe 10 years from now it will be a different story,” said Glendale City Council candidate Jefferson Black, who has not invested in social media.

Age isn't tracked during elections, but about 69% of Glendale's roughly 98,000 registered voters are 40 or older, according to Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. Among Burbank's roughly 61,000 voters, that figure is about 67%.

Whatever the preconceived notions, experts say candidates will do well to heed the continued trend toward social media in campaigns.

“Inevitably it's going to be a rule of thumb,” said Jaime Regalado, a political analyst. “For those who continue to eschew it, they'll lose the winning margins because the other side is reaching more voters.”

And raking in more money.

One candidate for Glendale city clerk, incumbent Ardy Kassakhian, has raised roughly a third of his campaign war chest through rally.org, an interactive online crowd-funding tool that has so far brought in about $13,000.

Still, use of social media can carry a sting.

Glendale City Council candidate Zareh Sinanyan landed in hot water earlier this month after he refused to flatly deny being the author of vulgar, ethnically charged comments made under his name via posts on YouTube and Facebook.

After the comments came to light, he would only say that they did not reflect his beliefs. But the episode — during which his commission seat was on the line — highlighted the dangerous side of being active on social media websites.

And just as social media can be used to promote a campaign, it can be tapped to rally against a candidate. A Facebook group called “Gordon's Gotta Go” was formed this month to campaign against the incumbent Burbank city councilman. By midweek, it had amassed 162 “likes.”

Despite the drawbacks, the amount of exposure candidates can achieve in historically low-turn-out races via social media and other online tools is unprecedented, experts said.

And more local candidates, such as Glendale Unified candidate Daniel Cabrera, say it's an integral part of running a modern campaign.

“Unless,” Cabrera said, “all you want to do is talk to people over 50 years old.”

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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