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Around the Foothills

Many words were spoken, not too many of them compelling . . . .

April 06, 1989|DOUG SMITH

As hardly more than a footnote to a long election campaign, that small, persistent group that champions the homeless tried to get its case into public view.

The Glendale Coalition to Coordinate Emergency Food and Housing on Thursday put on the last of about a dozen candidates' forums that began in February and meandered through every topic from race relations to hillside development.

This one, held before a hall of empty seats in the downtown library, was far from the most spirited of the election season's ritual--if arguably ineffectual--public dramas.

In fact, just the night before in the same auditorium, a much larger crowd enjoyed some first-rate political vaudeville when the candidates ejected one of their questioners in a League of Women Voters forum.

The victim was James Gressinger, the new publisher of the old-guard Glendale News-Press. In a column under his name, Gressinger had endorsed the two incumbents, Ginger Bremberg and Mayor Carl Raggio, along with Richard Jutras, the inside favorite among the 11 challengers. He also questioned whether Joe Ayvazi, an Armenian, could represent all of Glendale.

Ayvazi didn't like that. He said Gressinger should be disqualified for bias. Gressinger stepped down, and the candidates agreed to replace him with a working reporter from his paper.

No such fun was in store for Thursday. The incumbents and their protege were away, being honored by a group of supporters at a dinner party that was probably a lot more fun than the forum on the homeless and politically more productive.

Their pre-written statements, read by moderator Greg Roth, suggested that none considered the topic worthy of great attention at the municipal level. They pointed out that the city gives about $25,000 to the homeless organizations--most of it merely handed down from federal grants--and that is the proper thing to do.

As usually happens at candidate forums, many words were spoken, not too many of them compelling, incisive or even well thought-out.

The most informative talk was by Roth, associate pastor of the Glendale Presbyterian Church. He merely reported what is known about homelessness in Glendale and what little is being done about it.

He said the coalition was initially formed to coordinate existing community services, but became more activist when it learned that by going to every agency in town, "a homeless individual could get two boxes of groceries, six nights in a motel and maybe some used clothing."

The group's research showed a daily average of 200 to 250 homeless. Sixty percent of them are Glendale residents whose problem, Roth said, is unemployment or underemployment.

Many have families. Many are young. Many don't qualify for any aid. They're looking for jobs, trying to keep their kids in school, staying out of sight.

"They're living in cars, moving from place to place," Roth said. "To really help the homeless in a significant way, we need food, shelter and clothing. Shelter is the biggest need in our community at this moment."

The candidates, allowed five minutes each, spoke in alphabetical order. Most were better at needling the Big Three than explaining what should be done about homelessness.

Ayvazi, who loaned his own campaign enough money to make it the richest in the race, told how he arrived in Glendale, broke and homeless 32 years ago, and found his first job.

Nida Brown confessed that she asked a homeless woman to leave the doorway of her law office on Broadway. She worried that building a shelter might encourage more homeless to come.

Ed Dorris, a former sheriff's deputy, said it's OK to help the homeless, but not anybody who is a "6-foot-2, 180-pound idiot lying under a cardboard box, sucking on a bottle of wine."

Homeowner representative Shirley Griffin, also in absentia, said it's a good thing to help the homeless as long as doing so doesn't attract any more.

Dick Matthews, a vice president with Carnation, listed all the charity groups he has headed or joined.

There was pathos in the earnestness with which the predictable losers applied themselves to an uncomfortable topic that had been all but abandoned by the front-runners.

The pathos reached a climax when landscaper Richard Seeley stepped forward. Showing his lack of any sense of what campaigning is about, Seeley delivered a balanced, articulate, moving analysis of the role of local government in aiding the homeless. It was probably the best speech of his life. It showed he cared.

In a private conversation, Lt. Ken Hodder, commander of the Glendale Salvation Army, conceded that the organizers never hoped their event would draw a large crowd or influence Tuesday's voting. Their major goal, Hodder said, was to pull in a little media coverage. For what it's worth, they did.

By the way, Seeley finished next to last. After doing little better, Ayvazi accused Gressinger of spreading xenophobia and vowed to run him out of town.

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