Glendale Selects a New Mayor


On Tuesday night, the Glendale City Council debated late into the night changes to its process for selecting a new mayor, hearing from more than a dozen residents, some loud, some rancorous.

The Council selects a new mayor each year. The next selection is scheduled for the next council meeting on Tuesday, April 2.

“Previous councils have made the process one prone to horse-trading and back-room deal-making,” Councilmember Ardy Kassakhian recalled as the impetus for the current ordinance adopted in 2021. “Colleagues were stepped over for the mayorship; it was counter to the culture we need for the Council to get things done. And so, at my urging, we came up with a process which over time has shown to be an imperfect one as it allows for a loophole where someone would be skipped over and not allowed to serve as mayor during their first four-year term.”

Kassakhian proposed that the rule be changed to give someone who has never served as mayor precedence over someone who has served as mayor.

“If school children can understand the basics of simple fairness and decency of taking turns and allowing everyone a turn, certainly council members can,” said Joy McCreary who introduced herself as a resident of Glendale and a member of the National Women’s Political Caucus. She asked the council “to repeal the current policy and put in place a more equitable one that gives every councilmember the opportunity to serve as mayor during their four-year term. The mayorship is not merely a symbolic position – it gives every councilmember a year to serve as spokesperson for the city, set agendas, represent Glendale on different outside bodies including regional and state leagues. Every single councilmember with the exception of Councilmember Elen Asatryan has had the opportunity to serve as mayor during their first four-year term.

“It would be remiss of me not to bring up that it’s national Women’s History Month and, as the policy stands, the first immigrant, the first Armenian woman, and the youngest woman elected to the Council would be prevented from representing us as mayor. As a young woman myself, I would look forward to seeing a woman as the mayor.”

The next speaker offered a widely divergent point of view.

“My name is Ani, a 33-year Glendale resident and I’m here to speak about your plans to change the rules in order to satisfy your political needs. You pushed for changes to remove politics from the mayoral selection. Looks like that’s working just fine,” Ani said. “The municipal code says the mayor shall be elected starting with the member with the longest continuous service since last serving as mayor. This rule was created with a unanimous vote. But now you want to change the rule. Why? Because it will allow Elen Asatryan a participation prize after having been soundly defeated in her assembly race – she couldn’t wait to leave our city in order to climb the political ladder only a year into her council term. She announced she wanted to go on to something bigger. You shouldn’t be changing rules to serve the political narcissism of a councilmember. Keep the rule the way it is.”

Councilmember Kassakhian responded to city attorney Mike Garcia’s explanation of the process of revising the ordinance.

“You’re overcomplicating this. It’s very simple. We had a rule in place to ensure that no one would get slipped over in the mayorship and now the adoption of that rule is going to result in at least one member being slipped over,” Kassakhian said.

“I have a lot to say,” began Councilmember Ara Najarian. “No one has seen as many mayoral selection processes as I have. I remember a process in 2008 when I supported Bob Yousefian. Bob Yousefian supported Bob Yousefian. Weaver and Quintero wanted me to be mayor. John Drayman said, ‘Take your little red wagon down the road,’ so we were tied at 2-2 with me supporting another councilmember. What kind of screwy, screwy process is that? And every year when it comes time to be mayor, there’s back-door dealing. There’s horse-trading. There are promises. Back-scratching. Quid pro quo like you’ve never seen before. I don’t want to tell you what happened to Laura Friedman because two of my colleagues would be very embarrassed.”

Najarian shared the story nonetheless. “It was 2016 and this is burned in my memory as this was the most shameful decision I ever made as a councilmember. In 2016 there was an assembly race between our clerk, Ardy Kassakhian, and then-councilmember Laura Friedman. Friedman was next in line to be mayor – a woman for all you women supporters. Supporters of Kassakhian and members of the ANC [Armenian National Committee] came to me and said, ‘There’s no way you’re going to vote Laura Friedman in as mayor’ because they didn’t want Laura Friedman to be running as mayor against Ardy as the city clerk. And the threat was, ‘If you don’t do what we ask you to do, we’re not going to support you.’ At that time I’d been on Council for 11 years and was running for supervisor.”

“Now who was the head of the ANC at the time?” Najarian asked rhetorically. “Look it up folks. It was Elen Asatryan. And it was the most haunting decision I have ever made because that’s stepping over someone who’s next in line. We ended up with a good mayor – we went to Paula Devine. But that’s not the point. That’s why I was so relieved in 2021 when Mr. Kassakhian said let’s have a predictable, reliable system of selected the mayor.”

Councilmember Paula Devine similarly recalled the bitterness of past mayoral selection processes.

“It was embarrassing. That’s why I was adamant about getting a process in place that would make the process predictable. When I was mayor the second time, this ordinance was in place and the transition was smooth. I was the housing authority chair – the reason we do that [as a required precursor to becoming the mayor] is to give newly elected officials experience in running meetings – sometimes a person will get elected and never run a meeting before – being the housing chair gives them the opportunity to learn.”

“I still think that’s the way to go,” Devine observed. “It has to be predictable. If it’s not, it becomes ugly. I’ve been through it. Others have been through it. It leads to hard feelings; it leads to a dysfunctional Council. You get division and that’s not good for the Council and it’s not good for our residents. It’s a good ordinance and it’s been working. I would like to see it stay in effect.”

Councilmember Asatryan responded to “a lot of accusations made here tonight. I’ve grown up in this city and I’ve been a daughter of this community. I’ve stayed up until 5 a.m. for every one of Ara Najarian’s elections. 2005 – his first race. When he ran for supervisor. I was there for him. All of the accusations that have been made about me to try to tarnish my reputation on all your little accounts … my track record speaks for itself and I’m happy to sit down and walk through that track record. In the past year, I’ve had colleagues raise their hand to tell me to be quiet. I’m not going to be quiet. My experience has been questioned. Just because someone has served as mayor before doesn’t mean that they get to supersede over someone who has not. I always come from a place of fairness and I just don’t think this policy is fair.”

Mayor Dan Brotman acknowledged that it was understood at the time the ordinance was adopted that someone could be elected for a four-year term on the Council and not get to serve as mayor during that term. He indicated that he was open to “tweaks” to the rules.

After much discussion, the council agreed to review various options. Kassakhian pushed for changing the process so that someone who has never served as mayor takes precedence over someone who has previously served as mayor. The Council will review language updating the ordinance at future meetings. Changes that are adopted would affect future mayoral selections.

In other business, the council proclaimed National Library Week beginning on April 7, awarded a follow-up contract to continue the city’s Green Business certification program, and voted to vacate two properties: a portion of the southeast corner of Jackson Street and California Avenue for the building of a three-story 11-unit rental project and the alley between Allen and Irving avenues northeast of Victory Boulevard. A caller explained that it is a “nice alley. Parents teach their kids to ride their bikes there.” According to staff, the property owner is consolidating business interests there and seeks to create a “secure campus” by closing off the alley.

“He owns the properties to the north and south of the alley,” staff explained.

The next meeting of the Glendale city council is set for Tuesday, April 2 at 6 p.m.