Burbank Primary Election Commentary

Incumbents and voter apathy ruled in Tuesday’s Primary Election, with all 4 incumbents (1 Council & 3 School Board members) being easily re-elected in the lowest voter turnout since the Mail-in Ballot system designed to increase voter turnout began in 2005. A meagerly 8,073 votes were cast (approx. 14.3% of 56,499 Registered Voters), representing an almost 3,000 vote decline from the 2009 Primary where 10,990 votes were cast. On the Council side, incumbent Gary Bric, aided by 3 mailers from the IEBU, received 4,642 votes or 57.5%, down slightly from the 61% he received when elected 4 years ago. Emily Gabel-Luddy came in 2nd with 3,845 and will face Bob Frutos in the April General Election run-off.

Frutos received 3,071 votes and has a lot of ground to make-up if he’s going to turn-the-tables, but such a turn-around is not without precedent. In Bric’s first run for Council he easily beat Todd Campbell in the Primary by 414 votes (2921 vs. 2507), only to loose in the General Election in a dramatic 1,841 vote swing (4933 vs. 3506). That said, for Frutos to win he’s going to have to find votes and give those 3,000 people who didn’t vote this Primary a reason to vote for him. I asked Todd Campbell a few years ago how he did it and he shared with me that he took time off work and basically knocked on every door in Burbank. Perennial Councilman Dave Golonski knows this campaign “secret” well and despite the advent of social media, blogs & email, good old-fashion door knocking is still the key, especially in a largely disinterested electorate.

Jackie Waltman who was a late entry in the race got a very respectable 2,131 Votes. It will be interesting to see if she sticks around to lobby the Council for the elimination of public employee bonuses, greater transparency, and opposes the now mandatory annual BWP Rate increases, or if she does what most challengers do, disappear like Kimberley Jo & others. I for one hope she remains politically active & look forward to seeing her speaking at future Council meetings.

The School Board election saw a good showing by 2-time challenger Gregory Bragg, but not enough to challenge the incumbents. Most people appear fairly happy with the direction our Schools and the election results reflect that. The School Board now faces the challenges of dealing with further cuts in education funding. It will be interesting to hear where they weigh-in on Governor Brown’s proposal to eliminate Redevelopment Agencies and if they proceed with an effort to put on the ballot at Parcel Tax increase in 2013.

So what does this all mean? You can expect more of the same from Bric & the Council majority, although Gary did go on the record as stating he was now opposed to City Employee Bonuses after getting heat over the issue during the campaign. Hopefully he’s a man of his word and given Frutos & Gabel-Luddy are also opposed to these secret bonus payments, we can at least see an end to that practice soon. Bric has shown the ability to think independently and has even voted with Councilman Gordon on occasion. It will be interesting to see what if anything he can accomplish during his 2nd Term to make Burbank a better place to live & work. Don’t expect any changes re the Council’s hostile attitude towards Burbank Police Dept. Litigation and related expenditure that has already cost Burbank Taxpayers unaccounted $ Millions. You can also count on Utility & Water Rate hikes again, but apparently the majority of folks in our upper-middle class town don’t mind. The reality is because of the excellent rainfall we’ve received the last 6 months, most people haven’t really felt the pain of the 13.5% Water Rate hike approved last year, but with warmer weather coming they soon will, especially if/when the Council approves another 8% increase in June.

The future of our Mail-in Elections is another hot topic that needs to be addressed. It’s time to review & re-think the whole process IMO. Some feel the City should pay for postage to encourage more voter participation. Would it help? It certainly can’t hurt. I have no doubt some people filled in their ballots but didn’t have a stamp handy, were going to drop it off but didn’t get around to doing so for whatever reason. That said, it really doesn’t get any easier than this, and the City provides numerous places for residents to drop off their ballots.

Perhaps we should mail out ballots 2 weeks later to give candidates a few extra weeks to introduce themselves and get their messages out to voters. This is especially important for the challengers who do not have the name recognition of incumbents. In fact to my knowledge, no incumbent Council or School Board member has ever not been re-elected since we went to the mail-in system.

Should we go back to having an actual Election Day? Perhaps, but I worry voter turnout could end up being even lower, and doing so would make our Election more expensive. A related idea is to move the election date to November to co-incide with Federal & State Elections. I believe this would absolutely increase voter turnout but worry local issues & candidates would get lost in the mix, overshadowed by the massive media coverage & advertising devoted to partisan Federal/State campaigns. It’s always amazed me that so many people pay so much attention to these bigger races, yet in many ways the decisions made by our local elected officials have far greater impact on our daily lives.

Regardless of what happens, one change I’d like to see is a few real debates where members of the public can stand up and ask questions of all the candidates (1 pre-Primary/ 1 pre-General), vs. the current “controlled” LWV Candidates Forum with pre-screened questions. It would also help if our local rag (Burbank Leader) actually covered the election and the big issues more than they currently do and in a impartial manner. One couldn’t help but notice the page 2 preferential placement of Emily Gabel-Luddy’s answers in their Candidate Q&A’s and the Mailbag letter of support published the weekend before the Primary, something that was disallowed by previous Editors.  The previous weekend we had the Bric + Gabel-Luddy endorsements, Bob Olsen’s City employee bonus defense and Craig Sherwood’s support for City nepotism. I sent responses to the later 2 [scroll down] but neither were published, nor were several other letters I received copies of from well-known Burbank residents opposed to the “confidential” City Hall bonus payments.

So why are so few people in Burbank engaged politically? I know we’re all busy with work, school, church/community activities etc., but this unprecedented low voter turnout is an ominous sign for the future of our City as so few people seem to care. Can folks not find 1 hour over the weekend to at least watch the LWV Candidates Forum to make an informed/educated decision vs. voting for someone just because you’ve heard of them, or received a bunch of glossy mailers, or because a friend/neighbor told you to, or because the local newspaper endorsed them? Are people that lazy, that busy, that apathetic?

Without public involvement bad things happen. Remember what happened in Bell was largely caused by residents not paying attention or voting. In a few months the 3 big BPD law suits will go to trial and things are going to come out that may shake the core of our City to it’s foundations. But knowbody cares, unless of course some developer wants to build something in their neighborhood. The lack of any real debate also doesn’t help generate interest; We have one Candidate’s Forum and a few Q&A’s in the Burbank Leader and that’s about it. I’d really love to see Frutos & Gabel-Luddy go head-to-head on the issues before the General Election but that’s probably not going to happen.

Many people who were once active in local Politics are no longer involved, having been discouraged and in some cases the victims of vicious personal attacks and retaliation for their opposition to our City Council & Staff. I’m not sure what cataclysmic event will cause those people to once again get involved; perhaps something to do with the Airport (expansion) or BPD lawsuit revelations? Who knows, but for now the only thing we have to look forward to is at least one new Council person to replace outgoing Council member Anja Reinke, whose largely forgettable 4 year term ends in April. Please PRAY for Burbank!

BURBANK 2011 PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS

City Council

Jacqueline “Jackie” Waltman – 2,131 votes

Emily Gabel-Luddy – 3,845 votes – MOVES ON TO GENERAL ELECTION

Robert “Bob” Frutos – 3,071 votes – MOVES ON TO GENERAL ELECTION

Gary Bric – 4,642 – ELECTED

Board of Education

Ted Bunch – 4,373 – ELECTED

Roberta Grande-Reynolds – 4,491 – ELECTED

Dave L. Kemp – 5,041 – ELECTED

Gregory Bragg – 3,318

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