Online comments come back to haunt newly elected Glendale councilman
Newly elected City Councilman Zareh Sinanyan, seen here as a candidate, defends his character at a meeting in March. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Staff Photographer / March 12, 2013)
The hoopla over hateful online comments that were attributed to — and never denied by — newly minted Councilman Zareh Sinanyan was revived at his first meeting Tuesday with the help of someone who knows a thing or two about the power and influence of the Internet.
Last month, Sinanyan lost multiple high-profile endorsements — from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) to both Los Angeles mayoral candidates — when dozens of vulgar and threatening comments made under his name on YouTube, Facebook and other websites came to light.
Sinanyan never expressly denied being the author of the disparaging comments — which mostly referred to Armenia’s geopolitical enemies, but also gays, Muslims and women — saying only that they do not reflect his character.
Sarah Aujero, the woman who created a Twitter account for Meatball — the famed black bear that repeatedly visited Glendale neighborhoods to snack on trash and other items, including Costco meatballs — addressed the issue with a handful of other speakers at the council meeting Tuesday. She said she was disgusted by the comments and condemned Sinanyan for skirting the issue.
“If anyone is accused of something this heinous they would work tirelessly to clear their good name or give a clear denial, or if they had done it, had the courage to own up to the actions or provide an apology,” said Aujero, whose popular Twitter account — at roughly 32,000 followers strong — played a role in saving Meatball’s life.
“Please take it from me,” she added, “the voice of Meatball, the Glendale bear, online comments can have a powerful effect on the community and that can sometimes linger like the smell of garbage on a hot summer day.”
With a furrowed brow, Sinanyan stayed tight-lipped during the heated proceeding.
“My actions will speak for themselves,” he said afterward, refusing to confirm or deny his connection to the comments.
The YouTube comments, which have been deleted, led back to a profile under the username “gazanutyun,” but at one point the profile was under Sinanyan's full name, according to a Google feature that captures historic snapshots of webpages.
In addition to the political heat he felt on the campaign trail, Sinanyan for a time appeared at risk of losing his seat on a city commission, but the City Council proposal failed after his public reckoning in council chambers just weeks before the election.
Despite what he called a “smear campaign,” Sinanyan came in third after the votes were counted, ensuring his seat on the dais.
During the meeting, Mayor Dave Weaver tried to stop Sinanyan’s critics from unleashing on the newly elected councilman, but City Atty. Mike Garcia said it was their constitutional right to do so. Still, Weaver at one point told critics to “can it,” adding that the only way to remove Sinanyan from the dais would be through a recall vote.
And that, he said, “ain’t going to happen. He was elected by the people.”
Sam Manoukian, a Sinanyan supporter, called the criticisms “cheap shots.”
“The answers that people are looking for will come in time, but this is not the time, this is not the place to come and take cheap shots [at] someone who hasn't even had the opportunity to say hello,” Manoukian said.
But Zehra Siddqui — a Glendale High School freshman who read from the Koran at the Glendale Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast last month and called on others to respect her religion at the council meeting — took issue with Manoukain’s characterization of the critiques.
“It’s important for these so-called role models to take responsibility for their actions, whether good or bad,” Siddiqui said.