BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
A Blown Opportunity
January 12 marked the date of the California Democratic Party’s 43rd Assembly District Election Meeting. At this and 79 similar meetings held during that weekend, six men and six women were elected to represent each of California’s assembly districts at state conventions in 2013 and 2014. In addition, one executive board member was elected from each district who will be more actively engaged in the party’s ongoing affairs.
Over the last decade, Armenian participation in this biennial election has increased, in large part due to the ANCA’s efforts. More Armenians have gotten elected to office each time, working towards the day when our community will be represented in proportion to its growing size and participation in civic life within the borders of the 43rd Assembly District, which includes Burbank, parts of the Crescenta Valley, Glendale, and parts of Hollywood.
Seven of us from ANCA circles (yes, for full disclosure I was a candidate to serve as a delegate from the 43rd) cooperated and worked to turn out our friends to vote. There were other Armenian candidates as well with whom some of us coordinated efforts at the last minute. There were at least two other slates of candidates. The largest was a full complement of twelve fielded by Assemblymember Mike Gatto. We reached out to Gatto to cooperate but were rebuffed. This was yet another effort to improve the strained relations between this elected official and our community. It constitutes the missed opportunity on Gatto’s part.
So far, so good, right? It all seems like normal, if not optimal, behaviors in the context of an election. But beyond this, it gets ugly.
Gatto’s minions had come prepared. His modus operandi is to always attack viciously, and this time, I was a specific target. You can see for yourself, in the accompanying picture, what they were distributing. You can also see how misleading the whole attack is. The handout refers to “good” Democrats. But Mike Gatto is far from being such a person. He has engaged in all kinds of shenanigans, as I’ve chronicled, all very unbecoming of a Democrat.
Among those misbehaviors is subtle voter suppression (see “Solution Seeking Problem” in the November 19, 2011 Asbarez) , something his cohort did again at this delegate election. Led by a top Gatto aide, 35 Armenians who had come to vote were “challenged”, i.e. their right to vote questioned. You might think this is legitimate, especially since a few of them turned out to be registered as “No party preference” and had evidently forgotten that status. But this course of action takes on a decidedly more questionable hue when I am told that one of those rejected, upon later verification, turns out to have been a Democrat. That individual is planning to file a complaint with the Democratic Party. It all becomes crystal-clear when one of the people challenged by the aide turns out to be a board member of the California Armenia American Democrats (CAAD), someone the aide knows is serving in that position, especially since the aide is a member of CAAD. The point of challenging so many people, it becomes obvious, is not sincere concern, but intimidation and harassment, probably in the hopes of discouraging them from voting. This is the disrespect with which Gatto and his fellow travelers treat Armenians. Oh, and guess what, on the Gatto slate, there was one Armenian, one of his employees, no less. That’s one out of twelve, just over 8% in a district that is well over 25% Armenian.
The day after the election, a posting appeared on a local (to the district) blog known best for it’s being a front operation for Mike Gatto. It vilifies, usually without grounds, people and groups who are on Gatto’s enemies list. This posting denigrated the ANCA, likening the organization to the Lyndon Larouche supporters within the Democratic Party (a group that is looked upon with great disdain) and effectively claiming the ANCA is anti-Semitic. It is obvious to me that this was a “hit” in response to the seven of us “daring” to run for the delegate positions against his candidates, since, of course, we should all be sniveling underlings to his magnificence…
But it gets worse. On the same day, many people in the community received an e-mail from Lori Adams, president of the Burbank Teachers Association. This e-mail was addressed to Gatto, and revealed that Gatto had threatened the leader of the slate she was on. As a result, this person felt obliged to not attend the election. For a change, the LATimes, (“Head of Burbank teachers union clashes with Assemblyman Mike Gatto,”) along with its local affiliate, The Burbank Leader, reported on Assemblymember Mike Gatto’s misdeeds, although only on-line, and not in print, as of this writing. They have tended not to expose his improprieties as thoroughly as they might.
Gatto’s slate won. But he’s probably concerned that he may not be able to pull of the same feat in two years. Given his patterns of behavior, including not reaching for the hand extended in cooperation in this case as so many times in the past, he will probably continue to antagonize his constituents instead of being decent and magnanimous in victory; instead of being a leader; instead of working for the betterment of the close to half a million people in the district he is supposed to represent.
You might consider reaching out to Mike and telling him how objectionable you find all this. Here’s his contact info:
300 East Magnolia Boulevard Suite 504
Burbank, CA 91502