By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
FORTY-EIGHT HOURS BEFORE last week’s primary election, voters in the 43rd Assembly District checked their answering machines and found the audio equivalent of a stink bomb: “What does Paul Krekorian have in common with a convicted terrorist? Plenty,” said the man with the pinched voice, who did not identify himself or the political entity paying for the call. “Convicted terrorist Mourad Topalian received an award from the Armenian National Committee and then pled guilty to weapons and explosives charges. Now, Paul Krekorian has accepted the endorsement of the Armenian National Committee.”
The caller explained how Krekorian — not to mention his wife, who is also Armenian — worked with the local chapter of the American National Committee of America to donate books to the Burbank Public Library. Then he offered a second warning about Krekorian, who was running for state Assembly in a district that includes Glendale and North Hollywood: “There’s no place in our community for a group that hands out awards to convicted terrorists. And there’s no place in the state Assembly for Paul Krekorian.”
The written version of the Krekorian attack was even more explosive, largely because the sender was the California Latino Leadership Alliance, a political-action committee that spent more than $60,000 on Krekorian’s opponent, Glendale City Councilman Frank Quintero. Suddenly, the attack was the subject of angry phone calls, press interviews and Armenian cable news shows.
“It’s an attempt to drive a wedge between the Armenian and Latino communities,” said Zanku Armenian, spokesman for the Western regional office of the Armenian National Committee of America. “It’s very unfortunate and actually disgusting that they would stoop to that level, trying to characterize an organization that does a lot of community service and voter outreach in that way.”
Quintero supporters were equally dismayed, saying the 11th-hour strike inadvertently smeared their candidate, a soft-spoken man who had spent 30 years forging ties with Armenian civic leaders. Still others said the campaign missive had the potential to leave lasting wounds in Glendale.
“We’ve had these underlying tensions between Latinos and Armenians for six years, and this flier doesn’t help,” said Glendale Community College trustee Victor King, who called the anti-Krekorian attack “the most racially divisive” he had seen in his city in 30 years.
Krekorian defeated Quintero in last week’s Democratic primary and, because the district is heavily Democratic, is expected to win the seat in November. But a week after the election, none of those responsible for the attack mail have been held to account, slipping through the cracks of the state’s arcane campaign-finance rules.
The California Latino Leadership Fund is an independent-expenditure committee, one of the entities that bankrolled some of the most vicious ads of the political season. By law, they may spend money on behalf of a candidate as long as that candidate is not involved in the effort. The California secretary of state’s Web site offers scant information on the organizers of the leadership fund, only listing phone numbers for the group’s treasurers, both of whom work at the Oakland-based firm Henry C. Levy & Co. Accountant Stacy Owens referred calls to the leadership fund’s lawyer, who did not respond to a request for comment. While she had seen the Armenian attack mailer, Owens had no comment on it.
“It’s not my job,” she said. “I don’t know the political atmosphere in Glendale, and I’m not responsible for content of mailers.”
Three contributors to the leadership fund said they were asked to contribute by Assemblyman Joe Coto, vice chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. Jose Mejia, director of the State Council of Laborers, said his group gave $15,000 at a fund-raiser earlier this year and was under the impression that the committee was being funded with help from leaders of the Latino Legislative Caucus, Coto and state Senator Martha Escutia, D-Los Angeles.
“We do get invited and make contributions to some of these groups, and then we later find out they did something like [the attack mailer],” Mejia said. “Or they put money into somebody that we didn’t take a position on or even endorsed against.”
Coto did not respond to three requests for comment. Escutia said she was not involved with the California Latino Leadership Fund, but did attend one of its fund-raisers in the past year. Escutia, who said she was appalled by the anti-Krekorian mailing, had no contacts for the group and could not remember the day of the fund-raiser.
“I’m not aware of the comings and goings of independent expenditures, of which there are so many,” she said. “You’re asking me questions about an I.E. that I don’t have any control over.”
The California Latino Leadership Fund based its Krekorian attack mailer on Mourad Topalian, a one-time head of the Armenian National Committee of America who was indicted in 1999 by a grand jury in Ohio. Topalian, who was living in the Cleveland area at the time, was accused by federal prosecutors of participating in the 1980 bombing of the Turkish Mission in New York City. Topalian reached an agreement with prosecutors in 2001, pleading guilty to charges of storing illegal explosives and owning two machine guns.