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CD 2 Election in San Fernando Valley: Is Essel Playing Ethnic Politics?

The two candidates fighting for the Valley seat on the L.A. City Council have both been scorned for relying heavily on scads of cash from special interest groups operating outside of City Council District 2.

But Christine Essel, whose staggering $300,000 war chest enabled her to sail into the runoff against state Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, may have just crossed a line. Even if she hasn't, her actions will most likely fan the flames of a vicious ongoing ethnic battle in Los Angeles.

Essel's opponent in the Dec. 8 special election is an Armenian-American. And CD 2 has more Armenian-Americans than any other council district in Los Angeles.

On Saturday Oct. 17, Essel attended a Beverly Hills fundraiser hosted by a board member of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, a lobbying group that adamantly denies the Armenian genocide. Recognition of this genocide has been perhaps the single most important moral and political issue for Armenian-Americans, who are just as appalled by deniers as Jews are by those who refuse to acknowledge the horrors of Hitler's Holocaust.

Also attending Essel's fundraiser were Azerbaijani leaders, whose controversial campaign to get California lawmakers to condemn Armenia for past military actions was defeated by Krekorian earlier this year.

An article on the fundraiser was published two days ago in an Azerbaijani newspaper and appeared on a Turkish website that, among other things, also features videos about Armenia's "So-Called Genocide." The article on the fundraiser praises Essel and labels Krekorian's views "immoral" and his actions as anti-Turkey.

When asked about the meeting, Essel's campaign released a statement that the candidate "strongly believes" that the Armenian genocide occurred and should be recognized by "all governments."

Essel's statement described the event as a "meet and greet" where contributions were not required and noted: "The Essel campaign does not refuse to meet with people on the basis of their ethnicity."

Krekorian chastised Essel: "I'm disappointed that Chris' insatiable demand for special interest money is so great that she'll even pander to people who hate me because of my heritage." 

Yet during the first round of the special election, Krekorian took heat for what some saw as deceptive campaign tactics aimed at wooing Armenian voters.

A mailer targeting Armenians during the first round of the Council District 2 election raised eyebrows by encouraging voters to send their vote-by-mail registrations to Krekorian's campaign office rather than to Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters.

The pro-Krekorian mailer also featured the decorative, official county seal next to Krekorian's name, which some say could have easily misled voters into believing they were sending their voting documents to a county elections official. They weren't.