By Harut Sassounian
In an unsuccessful attempt to undermine the election of an Armenian American candidate in the Democratic Primary for the 43rd Assembly District of California–the California Latino Leadership Fund (CLLF) sent an ugly mailer last week that tarnished the image of the entire Armenian American community. The 43rd District includes Glendale–Burbank–North Hollywood–Silver Lake–Los Feliz–Griffith Park–Toluca Lake–Atwater Village–and Valley Glen.
Just before last Tuesday’s election–tens of thousands of non-Armenian voters received postcards as well as phone calls warning them against voting for Paul Krekorian–a Burbank Board of Education Member–because he was endorsed by the Armenian National Committee (ANC). The postcards and the phone calls were clearly meant to scare off the voters by linking Krekorian and the ANC to "a suspected terrorist." While the postcard–as required by law–mentioned the name of the group (CLLF) that sent it–the phone call did not identify its sponsor–in violation of California campaign laws. The phone message unabashedly stated: "There is no place in the State Assembly for Paul Krekorian."
On the eve of the primary election–pitting Krekorian against Frank Quintero–a Glendale City Councilman–the contemptible mailer and the subsequent phone call drove the local Armenian community into an absolute frenzy. Just about every local Armenian cable show devoted the final 48 hours of the campaign to denouncing this ugly attack on the Armenian community–pointing to Quintero as being behind the mailer and phone call–even though he had many Armenian supporters and contributors–had been endorsed by the ANC in the past–and had visited Armenia and the Armenian community in Lebanon. Krekorian won the primary with 14,137 votes (57%). Quintero received 10,863 votes (43%). Krekorian will face Republican Michael Agbaba in November. Given the overwhelming majority of the Democratic voters in the 43rd District–Krekorian is expected to win handily.
Quintero himself denounced the CLLF’Ss mailer. In a message he posted on his campaign website–he said: "I am disgusted that this organization–which by law has no affiliation with my campaign–has sent out such a hurtful message. The mailer does not reflect anything that I believe in or stand for." Quintero wrote to the CLLF one day before the election condemning the mailer and calling it "completely out of line." He also wrote to the California Attorney General asking for an immediate investigation "to establish responsibility."
When asked by this writer if he knew of the mailer in advance or had anything to do with it–Quintero said that he was told by three Armenian friends a couple of weeks before the election that they had heard talk of anti-Armenian mailers to be sent to local voters. He said he did not take the rumors seriously. This writer pointed out to him–however–that in the message he posted on his campaign website condemning the anti-Armenian mailer–he should not have blamed the Krekorian campaign for it–by describing it as "another one of the Krekorian campaign dirty tricks."
After the mailers went out–no one seemed to be able to identity the California Latino Leadership Fund. The postcard mailed by the CLLF carried a non-descript address in Oakland–California. The only indirect connection between the Quintero campaign and the CLLF is found on the website of the California Secretary of State showing that the CLLF had reported spending (through May 25) $18,433 on a mailer to oppose Paul Krekorian and $31,566 on a mailer to support Quintero. These sums were paid to Polka Consulting. Sandi Polka is listed as a political consultant to California State Senate President Don Perata.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission website disclosed the names of three individuals as the registered officials of CLLF. Stacy E. Owens is listed as the treasurer of the group. A further search on google indicated that Owens is also the treasurer of the Paul N. McCloskey–Jr. for Congress Campaign Committee in Northern California. The assistant treasurer of CLLF is Henry C. Levy–a CPA in Oakland–CA. Finally–the president of CLLF is Rebeca E. Barron. A google search disclosed that Barron is the "Big Cheese" of The Barron Collection Ltd.–a company in Seattle–Washington that now has four showrooms that sell various home accessories. Both The Barron Collection and Ms. Barron’s husband–Robert Apodaca–are listed on the California Secretary of State’s website as receiving from the CLLF more than $43,000 in paymen’s and reimbursemen’s.
The sinister nature of the mailer and the recorded phone call leave no doubt that someone intended to damage the political viability of Paul Krekorian’s candidacy and the credibility of the ANC and the Armenian American community. A thorough investigation must be carried out to find out the identities of those who conceived such a plot–paid for it and carried it out.
Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian told the Daily News (Los Angeles) that he wanted the council to hold a hearing into the mailer and the phone message. He was quoted as saying: "I feel that all Armenia’s were under attack when that mailer was sent out."
During a press conference organized by the ANC in Glendale a day after the election–a broad cross section of the leaders of local Armenian American organizations–including the Prelacy–Diocese–Armenian Evangelical Union–Armenian Catholic Exarchate of North America–ARS–AGBU–Hamazkayin–Armenian Society of Los Angeles–AYF–ANC–Homenetmen–Dr. Armine Hacopian–Vice President of Glendale Community College Board of Trustees–Vahig Zadourian of Davidian and Mariamian Educational Foundation–and Glendale City Councilmen Rafi Manoukian–Bob Youssefian–and Ara Najarian–denounced the anti-Armenian mailer.
"Unfortunately–during this campaign–ugly–anti-Armenian racist acts were committed against Paul Krekorian–the ANC–and our community," said Zanku Armenian–Board Member of the ANC–Western Region. "Together–we are standing before you today to say that this is unacceptable–we are outraged and we will hold all those individuals–organizations and institutions involved in this accountable."
The Armenian community should consider filing a complaint with the California Attorney General’s office as well as the State Fair Political Practices Commission. If warranted a civil lawsuit should be filed against the CLLF and their internal records subpoenaed in order to uncover who funded this hate mail.
Unless strict measures are taken to expose the culprits–those hiding behind the CLLF could resort to such ugly tactics in subsequent local–state–and national elections intending to compromise the careers of Armenian American candidates and harm the political credibility of the Armenian American community.
However–great care must be taken not to antagonize the entire Latino community and Latino politicians who were just as incensed by this mailer. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa–Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti–Congressman Adam Schiff–and many other elected officials of all ethnic backgrounds soundly condemned this attack on the Armenian community.