On Aug. 17, Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian talked to David Krikorian, a candidate in the Ohio Second Congressional District race, about his campaign and the complaints filed against him by his opponent, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt.
Khatchig Mouradian: Why did Schmidt file the complaints and what political or financial gains was she expecting to receive from the lawsuit?
David Krikorian: The complaint was filed in April 2009, after I filed to seek office as a Democratic candidate in the 2010 elections. As you know, in 2008, I ran as an Independent candidate, and the statements that Schmidt is claiming as false were made in the 2008 election cycle. It’s an interesting situation: You got a false-statement claim from a previous election period. She could have filed a complaint against me at any time but only chose to file a complaint after I announced that I would be seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2010. What that tells us, off the bat, is that she is obviously concerned about facing me in a general election. I think she simply looked at the numbers and said, If Krikorian got 18 percent of the votes as an Independent candidate, then he’s going to have a very good shot of beating me as a party-backed candidate. That has to be one of the motivating factors behind why she chose to file.
Frankly, I also think she was led into this by the Turkish lobby, which, over the course of the last six to nine months has obviously gone on the offensive in filing lawsuits and challenging Armenian Americans pretty much anywhere in the country. We’ve seen this organization, now called the American Turkish Legal Defense Fund, filing lawsuits all over the place, whether it’s against the Southern Poverty Law Center, the California State Legislature, or me here in Ohio. They are going on the offensive and we need to beat them everywhere and anywhere they want to fight us. And we have the opportunity, especially in the Southern Poverty Law case and my case, where we can soundly beat them. Because what they’re trying to do is wrong and we should not stand for it at all. They always claim that Armenian Americans are attempting verbal thuggery. Well, I think we know who the thugs are. The thugs are Bruce Fein, Lincoln McGurdy, the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), the Turkish government, and all the bought-and-paid-for officials here in the U.S.
Let me remind your readers: Jean Schmidt took more money from the Turkish lobby than any other single Member of the U.S. Congress. In the 2008 election cycle, there were 65 Representatives that the TCA supported. Schmidt was the highest money receiver of those 65. That’s what we’re up against here. The Turkish lobby is already putting in resources. In 2009, they held a fundraiser for her. They are making this their central fight in the battle for truth. This is why it is not an option for us to lose this election.
K.M.: A poll in June showed that you are well positioned to beat Schmidt. How have the numbers changed over the past few months?
D.K.: We will be taking a new poll in September, and will be interested to see how the numbers have changed since the first poll we did in June. Our expectation is that we will pick up additional votes, as we spent a lot of time throughout the course of this summer doing a lot of community outreach events. I have continued to build relationships within the Democratic Party.
The Democrats are going to face a little bit of an uphill battle going into 2010, especially if the economy continues to weaken. But the benefit that I have is that I am truly running as an outsider. I’m not a party insider and I think that will be a very good position for me to run from, because my district is a conservative district. It has always been a conservative district. In fact, a Democrat has not won this particular Congressional seat since 1964. So I don’t think a conventional Democrat could win this district, especially in 2010, when there will be some backlash against the Democratic Party, but I can truly hold myself apart from the Democratic Party and say look, I’m a conservative and I’m independent-minded. So much so that I ran as an Independent. We are the voice of people, and the voter should choose a candidate’s principle over his party affiliation. We have too many Representatives in Congress today who put party first, people second. We’re most definitely people first and party as a distant third.
In our last poll, Schmidt came in at around 44 percent. It was slightly lower than what she got in the general election itself. Anytime you’re a sitting Representative and polling less than 50 percent, that’s trouble. And in fact, the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee (DCCC) has identified my race as one of the top eight races in the country for a switch from a Republican to a Democrat. And for them to have made that distinction this early in the race, they know that they have a potential for a very strong candidate. And somebody who can pull 18 percent as an unknown Independent first-time candidate is obviously a strong candidate.
K.M.: What is your message to Armenian Americans? How can they help you and support you now and throughout the campaign?
D.K.: I have to be so crass, but the best way for the Armenian American community to support out campaign is to help fund it. It takes a tremendous amount of financial resources to operate a campaign, when you consider the campaign staff and all the advertising that you buy. This legal battle has consumed a tremendous amount of resources as well. That’s what we need.
Frankly, it does come down to financial resources. All the parties themselves—whether you’re talking about the Republican Party or the Democratic Party—care about is money. You can be the best candidate in the world. It doesn’t matter. All they care about is how much money you can raise. That’s the sad truth of what the American political system is all about today. And if you can show that you are a good fundraiser, then the party will back you. If you’re a great guy, a good campaigner, and very good on issues, and you’re a good leader, but you don’t raise money, they don’t care about you. I stand firmly against that. I think that’s the real reason why we don’t have healthcare reform, education reform. That’s certainly why we have the financial issues that we face in our country today. But it is what it is right now, and I can’t change it as a candidate, but I certainly intend to fight for those kinds of changes when I get to Washington.
One of the best opportunities that I have as a candidate is that I’m an Armenian American and we’re a close-knit family all across the country. I very much need the full support of the community in order to win this election. I think I’ve demonstrated that, when it comes to an Armenian American issue as important as standing up for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, and more importantly, speaking truth to power against those in Congress who do not recognize the genocide, I am more than capable of doing that and I’ll be a champion of that cause, the cause of my parents and grandparents.
I ask Armenian Americans to give as generously as they possible can. If they do that, we will certainly have the financial resources to beat one of our worst enemies in the U.S. Congress. If the community is not willing to embrace this campaign, with all that they can possibly do, then we should never complain when the U.S. government doesn’t recognize the genocide, because my Congressional race is ground zero of the Armenian Genocide battle. Ground zero! We have a huge trial that I know many of your readers have been following, and people need to support it. We don’t need help writing things, we don’t need any help in policy, making phone calls. That is all done by professionals in the district. What we do need is the financial resources to ensure that we do all that and we do it well, and show the party in Washington that we can raise the money and that them backing us is a smart move, because we will win.
Absent the money, we will not win. It’s as simple as that.
K.M.: Back to Ohio, you have on several occasions said that your opponent, instead of concentrating on issues you mentioned—like the economy, healthcare, education—is going after you individually and filing complaints, withdrawing them, introducing new ones. How does all this play in Ohio?
D.K.: We think she has made a terrible mistake filing these claims against me. We think that her strings are being pulled by the Turkish lobby, and my personal opinion is that if she had the opportunity to do it over, she never would have brought these charges against me. In fact, last week, as you reported, she dropped [four] of these charges, because she knew that she wasn’t going to be able to prove that she wasn’t a genocide denier, so it looks pretty silly when we’ve got all this problems that the country is facing, she’s filing false claims statements against me, and then having to drop those claims. It makes her look erratic.
One week from today, we get to depose her (Eds: Schmidt was deposed Monday. http://www.asbarez.com/2009/08/26/rep-schmidt-deposed-in-krikorian-case/) We will take her sworn testimony. If you’re a sitting Member of Congress, you should not give your opponent the opportunity to take your sworn testimony in a deposition. That’s what she’s gone ahead and done. By bringing this case against me she’s given me a tremendous amount of publicity, and that publicity is free. And what it does is it shows that the race is between Krikorian and Schmidt. The more they write about this in the local papers and on the national scene, the more the voters in the district will say, “This race is Schmidt versus Krikorian, that’s what the race is all about”!
Most of the district voted against her in 2008. They don’t like her. But the Democrats never ran a candidate who was capable of beating her. We have an unbelievable opportunity to finally do that.