BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
There is no easy or pleasant way to present the information in this article. The reader’s patience through the buildup is very important. The conclusion is essential to the self-respect of Armenian communities.
It seems as though every time an Armenian in the Los Angeles area gets “uppity” enough to “dare” run for a public office higher than at the local level, a barrage of negativity comes his or her way. This phenomenon is on painfully obvious display in the campaign leading up to California’s Primary Election in the 43rd State Assembly District (AD), the same district where this nastiness germinated in the 2000 Primary Election.
Back then the rules had changed and were similar to the current free-for-all where any voter affiliated with any party could vote for any candidate from any party. Two Armenians ran, one each from the two major parties, splitting the community’s vote and resources, leading to both losing in their respective party’s primary election. This taught a lesson to a certain political faction in the area which had its preferred candidate ultimately get elected.
In 2006, the next time term limits created the opportunity for new people to meaningfully vie for the 43rd AD seat, Paul Krekorian ran again (he had run in 2000, too). The smears hit. At the very last minute, in the form of an “independent expenditure” not only the candidate, but the whole Armenian community were portrayed as “terrorists” by unscrupulous campaigners. This time, it backfired. People were so disgusted that turnout dropped, and a strong showing by the Armenian community propelled Krekorian to a win.
But in 2010, when the seat opened up again, the same political faction in the district, learning from 2000, was able to secure the entry of a second, unelectable, Armenian into the Special Election that was held. With the split that caused in the Armenian community’s vote, a highly qualified Armenian woman was knocked out of the running.
Six more years passed, and today, those same forces have made common cause with a statewide player which is spending massive amounts of money to defeat the Armenian candidate, Ardy Kassakhian. What makes this even more interesting is that this same group, the Parent Teacher Alliance, funded by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates Independent Expenditure Committee (CCSA for short) also went after an Armenian candidate in 2012. They lost, and Adrin Nazarian is now serving in the Assembly.
The attacks on Kassakhian, ostensibly conducted “independently” of his main Democratic opponent, Laura Friedman, are ugly. It’s intriguing that two of these mailers contain a posed picture of Friedman and her family. How did they get that picture? They are also extremely misleading. Worst of all, based on one voter’s experience, someone might think that Friedman has no campaign of her own going. All the mailers received supporting her or attacking Kassakhian are paid for by CCSA. What’s going on? And at this point, CCSA has spent $1.2 million on this one Assembly race, out of a statewide total of $3 million it has spent (80 Assembly seats and 20 State Senate seats). That sum exceeds what any of the candidates has spent! Why is this one seat worth so much to the CCSA? Doesn’t it make you wonder what they’ve been promised by Friedman, the candidate they’re supporting?
Then there is the substantive misrepresentation in the mailers. Kassakhian is subtly accused of being anti-woman, based on the fact that because of existing laws and rules (out of his hands) he had to initially disqualify Nayiri Nahabedian when she last ran for reelection to Glendale’s school board. A court overturned that decision which pleased everyone, including Kassakhian. Nahabedian actually ENDORSES Kassakhian. She has spoken out against these mailers. Yet she’s being abused and misrepresented by an outfit (CCSA) which is pretending to stand up for women (see below) and whose very purpose is inimical to public schools.
But it goes even deeper. The CCSA’s founding CEO/President, Caprice Young, served, until recently, on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board. While there, she helped shield a Magnolia Public Schools (a Gulen front charter school operator) from proper scrutiny. Gulen is the Turkish religious leader whose “organization” has worldwide tentacles in the form of schools to spread their influence AND make money from unsuspecting host countries. Many of the Gulen-connected schools in the U.S. are now under investigation for potential financial improprieties. They seem to be very good at funneling money to their cult and those they support. There has been earlier documentation of Gulen money making it into CCSA’s coffers.
And, lest anyone think that this is all an exaggeration, merely the result of heated campaigning, consider the result of one voter’s efforts. He took the time to write to CCSA about their mailers and explained the facts involved in the Nahabedian situation described above. CCSA responded, but simply repeated their falsely-lofty goal of supporting women running for office (as if this has anything to do with charter schools). CCSA is standing by its Soviet-style disinformation campaign!
So we have a candidate – Friedman, an organization – CCSA, and murky political groups/connections with track records of attacking Armenian candidates (Nahabedian, Nazarian, Kassakhian) and spending obscene sums of money to do it. Friedman and her circle want to maintain their influence in Sacramento at all costs. CCSA wants to expand its influence in Sacramento so its supporters can keep getting rich off the public’s money. They do not care if achieving their aims means once again stomping all over the Armenian community’s dignity or hurting the educational opportunities of the children who depend on public schools for the education they need to succeed in life. CCSA and Friedman are also playing the gender card. Yet Friedman’s political circle had no qualms about deviously knocking out Nahabedian, a woman who was running for the very same office. These people represent the worst practices in electoral politics.
On the education front, Kassakhian has been endorsed by California Federation of Teacher, California Teachers Association, California School Employees Association and host of school board members from Los Angeles, Glendale, Burbank, as well as prominent educators in the city and state.
From the political end, Kassakhian is endorsed by among a long list, representatives Brad Sherman and Eliot Engel, California Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA City Councilman Paul Krekorian and LA City Councilwoman Nury Martinez.
If you don’t care about the dignity of the biggest, densest, Armenian community in the U.S., the one housed in California’s 43rd Assembly District and its political representation, then stop reading right now. If you DO care, then you must:
1- Vote on June 7 in the California state primary for Ardy Kassakhian, or make sure your mail-in ballot is received by that date (obviously, if you live in the district);
2- Get all your co-workers, family, friends, and neighbors to do the same (you don’t have to live in the district to do this);
3- Publicly denounce CCSA for its vile tactics and VERY publically demand that Friedman disown and apologize for the millions spent in her name against the Armenian community and its home-grown candidate.
That’s how we can help make sure that all this backfires the most qualified and decent candidate, Ardy Kassakhian, wins!