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Ron Kaye: Party needs to clear the air

January 26, 2013|By Ron Kaye

Assemblyman Mike Gatto's political director sent out an email blast urging Democrats in the 43rd Assembly District to show up with “as many friends and family as possible” on Jan. 12 at the IATSE union hall in Burbank to elect a dozen delegates to the party's state convention.

“Mike has endorsed a slate that is running, and there is another slate that has formed with individuals who have not supported Mike in the past. We would like to support the individuals who support Mike,” wrote Stacey Brenner.

Her efforts were rewarded with a massive turnout, 388 people in all, who carried the Gatto slate to an easy victory over two other slates put together by the teachers union and Armenian activists.

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Gatto, who lost eight of the 12 seats to these groups in 2010, expressed his delight on Facebook: “A heartfelt thanks to everyone who came out and voted in the delegate elections today. I am so happy that the Gatto slate won 12 of 12 spots. I appreciate so much everyone's hard work, and all of the support from the community.”

Responded one excited supporter: “Wow, sounds like the beginning of the Gatto Machine!”

That's exactly what the head of the Burbank teachers union and a large group of Armenian Americans who attended the election felt — but in the most negative way imaginable.

They accuse Gatto's team, led by Brenner, of using threats, intimidation, unethical tactics and racial profiling of Armenians to crush all opposition — actions that smack of machine politics, and that have made the Democratic Party appear to bear a striking resemblance to those they have so sharply criticized for voter suppression tactics.

In an email exchange, Brenner denied the accusations, saying incongruently that “Mike didn't run a slate.”

“Mike endorsed a group of people running,” she continued, “just like he endorses people in other races … I did not challenge prospective voters. From what I saw, some voters were challenged because there was a concern that people were bringing Republicans to vote in a Democratic caucus.”

Later in an interview, Gatto political consultant Mike Shimpock said: “We were merely trying to get our slate elected. No one was targeted based on ethnicity or for any reason other than we were questioning their eligibility to vote, which was well within the rules.

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