Perfect political storm leads to Glendale upset

first_imgGLENDALE – How did the best-financed incumbent lose his City Council seat, a mayor widely believed to be vulnerable retain his and a community advocate who once fell short of a win emerge as top vote-getter? For Glendale City Hall pundits, Tuesday night’s surprising election results could be rooted in an odd political convergence: a strong grass-roots campaign by the newly elected John Drayman, who rode an anti-incumbent tide into office, coupled with a miscalculation from those counting on Armenian politics to win the day. Councilman Ara Najarian said he believes Drayman, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Association, connected with homeowners in north Glendale who are anxious about development and felt the current council ignored their concerns. “He just hit a home run with those voters,” said Najarian, who supported incumbents Dave Weaver and Rafi Manoukian. “There were clearly some anti-incumbent sentiments. … I think there was a perception by the people that the incumbents were not responsive to their issues.” Manoukian was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Win for Weaver As for Mayor Weaver, many believe it wasn’t so much that he won as that Manoukian, a two-term councilman, failed to capture enough votes from his Armenian base. Weaver also might have benefited from voters seeking to reduce the council’s Armenian-American majority. “(Weaver) got lucky and he got the right last name,” said Eric Hacopian, a veteran political consultant who worked on the Manoukian campaign. “I do not think Rafi was in any way unpopular. It was something that was really beyond him. … Glendale is a very ethnically polarized city. There were more Armenian candidates than non-Armenian candidates. There were far more places for Rafi’s votes to go.” With all precincts and absentee ballots counted, Drayman, 48, was elected to the five-member council early Wednesday with 23.3 percent of the vote, while Weaver bested Manoukian to win a fourth term with 17.9 percent. Manoukian, the race’s top fundraiser with a war chest of more than $200,000, finished third with 16 percent in the eight-way race for two seats on the council governing this city of 207,000. The election, which included a school board and a college board race, drew a 23 percent turnout from the city’s 95,000 registered voters. For Drayman, it was a hard-earned victory after coming just 503 votes shy of a council seat in 2005. He attributed his win to a strong door-to-door campaign by his volunteers, who descended throughout the city, including primarily Armenian and working-class south Glendale. “We had a message that resonated with the voters,” he said. “I hope to be a fire under the pot to try to move things along (within the council).” A bridge-builder Drayman also was aligned with Manoukian – even contributing to his campaign – and is widely seen as a bridge-builder in this city where at least one-third of residents are now of Armenian descent. More than two decades ago, the city was primarily Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. “We’re very divided as a city,” Drayman said. “In Montrose, we’re a microcosm of the city as a whole. About one-third of the businesses are owned by those of Armenian descent. We’ve gotten beyond these issues. I want to bring that concept to the rest of the city.” And in politics, nothing is more valued than the ability to cross over and build coalitions, Hacopian said. “Whenever there is a change in demographics in which people who used to have all the political power see it slipping away, they don’t like it,” he said. “What you need are individuals who can cross this bridge.” Meanwhile, Manoukian’s defeat played-out as a classic case of divide and conquer. The most well-financed and qualified Armenian-American candidate on paper, he was pitted against three other Armenian-Americans who split the ethnic vote. Among them, Glendale Unified School District board member Greg Krikorian was fourth with 15.6 percent; immigration consultant Chahe Keuroghelian had 11.8 percent and TV host Vrej Agajanian took in 6.3 percent. “We still have a strong voter identification to candidates that reflects their own cultural and linguistic background,” said Jaime Regalado, director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles. “Playing that card too much and in a very close race could in fact lose some votes.” The council’s current composition, with three council members of Armenian descent, also appeared to work against Manoukian. “Some of the voters were concerned that we maintain a balance on the council – an ethnic balance as well as a geographical balance,” Najarian said. “With the prospect of four Armenians ending up on council, people wanted to step back. No scapegoat In fact, some Armenian-Americans were glad to lose their council majority. “I think it’s a good thing,” said Arthur Minassian, an attorney and local resident. “If anything goes wrong, people will think twice before scapegoating the Armenians.” But if you ask Weaver, he would attribute his win to low-key but strategic campaigning – he only sent out three mailers and ran primarily on his record at candidate forums – despite being outfunded by Manoukian. “Money doesn’t necessarily win elections,” he said. “I don’t think endorsements win elections either. People are intelligent enough to make their own decisions.” Weaver also said he benefited from broad-based support from different ethnic groups. “That’s what Glendale is,” he said. “It’s a blend of cultures, and I had support from all those stripes.” The incoming council hews closer to the city’s actual demographics – besides council members Najarian and Bob Yousefian, both of Armenian descent, and Weaver, who is white and married to an Asian-American; there’s also Frank Quintero, who is Latino. They will be joined by Drayman, a self-proclaimed Jewish atheist. [email protected] (818) 546-3304160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more