Time to Change the Approach to Elections

Zanku Armenian

BY ZANKU ARMENIAN

I wrote in one of my recent columns in the Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader what a dirty business politics can be. Historically, the Armenian community’s participation in elections has been focused on trying to encourage civic participation by getting people to vote. In the last decade, that dynamic started to evolve as more Armenians began to actually run for public office, especially in Glendale.

The idea of having Armenians run for elected office started off on the right foot, a natural progression toward more involvement in the affairs of the city and a desire to enter public service. But somewhere along the way, things went off course. More recently the community has allowed itself to fall victim to a strategy of division, preventing it from achieving its legitimate presence on the public stage.

In the last several election cycles, Glendale’s establishment, which wants to prevent the Armenian community’s representation in the city has been encouraging unqualified Armenian candidates to run for office, often to great embarrassment to the community. These interests also have converged with the larger political establishment that wants to prevent the community’s rightful presence in the state and national political arena as well. It’s natural for the area with the densest Armenian population to serve as a springboard for qualified Armenian candidates with aspirations for public office, which is probably why the battle has become so heated in Glendale. This requires everyone in the community to act smarter in the choices they make.

Case in point, in their communications the Glendale establishment is using the rallying cry that the “special interests” are conspiring to take over Glendale. The “special interests” they are referring to is their code word for “Armenians.” Both city council incumbents John Drayman and Dave Weaver have participated in events where this sort of thing is openly discussed and have been desperately trying to ring the alarm bells in non-Armenian circles that the Armenians are conspiring to take over the city.

At one of these events for the two incumbents, the invitation openly said, “Maybe certain special interest groups, groups that win by absentee ballots, may not want you to go to the polls to vote on Tuesday April 5?  Maybe they are trying to keep the news under the radar?  Maybe they are counting on low voter turnout?” I attended that event and I asked both Drayman and Weaver directly in front of everyone who are these “special interests” that they speak of?  They were too cowardly to openly share their views. Instead they attacked City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian, making baseless insinuations that he is somehow involved in an Armenian conspiracy. Nothing could be further from the truth and this is merely their way of playing the ugliest version of race politics.

Finally, their other tool in this race is Garen Mailyan, an obviously unqualified and fringe Armenian council candidate, who is serving as the front man for the incumbents to “validate” their racist views. At each of the candidate forums in front of non-Armenian audiences Mailyan in his closing remarks makes baseless Armenian conspiracy accusations against the other two Armenian candidates, Rafi Manoukian and Chahe Keuroghelian.

Using division as a path to power, the way Drayman and Weaver have been doing for years, has long-term destructive consequences not only for the Armenian community, but also for the city. It is in the interests of the city to allow room for legitimate leadership from the Armenian community to evolve into positions that serve in city affairs. This is necessary so that the community integrates and finds its place in our American society.

Tens-of-thousands of hard working and tax paying Armenian-American families have chosen to make Glendale their home and have a stake in the city’s future. The extreme polarization of the city’s politics and the intentional political isolation of the Armenian community by those willing to play dirty politics is hurting Glendale.

The community shares some responsibility for this reality. Large parts of the community and community organizations have remained insular and disconnected from the affairs of the city, instead of taking ownership and making a positive and constructive impact on our collective destiny as a city. Through apathy and inaction, the community has allowed room for this situation to take deeper root in the city instead of demanding change.

For the upcoming Glendale municipal elections, many people were encouraging me to run, hoping for a fresh choice. Even with the pressures of my career, I seriously considered taking on this challenge and was willing to jump in. I believe the city needs not only someone who understands the Armenian community and has played a leadership role in it, but at the same time brings a fresh vision and proven professional leadership to the city; a type of leader who is qualified in the broader context beyond the Armenian community, able to represent all its citizens. Glendale’s evolution is at a critical juncture and I believe my candidacy would have brought our city together, bridging the divide that has been created and beginning the process of positive change.

In my deliberations, I decided to have dialogue with many potential candidates who had pulled papers, including the six others of Armenian descent beside me, to understand their vision and reasons for running. In the end, several potential candidates displayed the maturity and restraint I hope all future candidates will exemplify, putting the greater good of our city first. The consensus was that the two incumbents are harming the future of our city and the challengers need to be given the best chance of winning.

Contrary to the intentions of the division game the incumbents have been playing, the field narrowed making it a competitive race. The April 5th ballot will have Rafi Manoukian, Mike Mohill, Chahe Keuroghelian, Garen Mailyan, and incumbents John Drayman and Dave Weaver on it for city council. My hope is that two challengers succeed in ousting the two incumbents and we should all get out and vote to ensure this happens.

I believe a future free of discrimination is what we all desire and that our children deserve. To achieve our future, we must all get out and vote for those candidates we believe can help us get there. And after elections, we should work to ensure there is accountability for all council members to exemplify integrity, maturity and a constructive vision that moves all citizens forward together.

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6 Comments

  1. Edmund said:

    Armenians have to stop with the notion of they know best. The Armenian Community is made of “All chiefs, no Indians.” it’s time to put our support behind one or two qualified candidates that represents both the Armenian-American population’s interest, and the Glendale Communities interests first. I agree with this article, vote for Raffi and Chahe, and let’s have a fresh start. We’re all leaders, it’s time we start believing in people other than ourselves.

  2. Hratch Tchaghatzbanian said:

    I have always trusted Zanku to say it like it is! And this article is an excellent example of his courage to stand up and tell the truth, regardless of how much political capital it might cost him. Zanku, your analysis is absolutely correct. Both Weaver and Drayman have been playing games from the very beginning to hold on to power. They are using fear tactics to divide the community and keep their seats. And unfortunately, a couple of the Armenian candidates are falling for their games in return for petty personal gains at the expense of the entire Glendale community. It’s absolutely disgusting. If they are true leaders, let them work on bridging various factions rather than dividing and conquering. That campaign letter that was sent out about “special interests” made me very angry. The Armenian community, regardless of its conservative Christian Orthodox values, never once used the “gay” card on Drayman in order to take his votes. It is especially wrong of him to take such a position, but I can’t blame Weaver doing the same as he is a desperate man hanging on to public office with his teeth. And Zanku, whenever you decide to run, you can count on my vote, my financial contributions and my campaigning for you! You would bring the shine back to the Jewel City.

  3. Peter Musurlian said:

    Zanku has hit the nail on the head. Additionally, I would suggest that local politics has not only become dishearteningly divisive (just like state & national politics), it is being dominated by childish, petty and flat-out dishonest individuals.

    I will struggle to find two people to vote for in this race, but Chahe Keuroghelian will not be one of them. His role in Mike Gatto’s Jesse Helms-inspired defeat over Nayiri Nahabedian for the State Assembly last year, is well documented. It is very well documented. Nayiri should have won. Nayiri would have won. But, Chahe prevented it, as Gatto manipulated certain members of the Armenian community, who were in desperate need of attention.

    Anyone with a Gatto endorsement should be roundly shunned by any self-respecting Armenian-American.

    It would appear that Chahe decided long ago to rip apart the Armenian-American community of Glendale for his own selfish pursuits. It is a sad day indeed, that the city I have called home since the 1989, is poised to elect such a poor role model for our kids and a such an embarrassing representative of what an Armenian-American is…in 21st Century America.

  4. Arm said:

    I agree with Zankou and would love to see him run for office in Glendale. I will support him and I am sure he will win. We need more people like Zankou to represent Americans as well as all other ethnic groups. After all, we are all Americans first.

  5. John Keusseyan, Lt. Col USAF (Retired) said:

    Excellent article. Herre is a suggestion: lets have some kind of Primary elections among all the Armenian candidates and only the winners of the Primary election participate in the General election. This is the only way we can have a fair election and the best Armenian candidate will be elected.

  6. Vincent Lima said:

    I’m curious why “the larger political establishment” beyond Glendale “wants to prevent the community’s rightful presence in the state and national political arena.” It may be true, but requires elaboration to be credible.

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