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Wedded to the idea of 2 City Council seats

Politics can make for familiar bedfellows as a husband and wife seek office in Burbank.

February 24, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

At kitchen tables all over Burbank, the debate between husbands and wives is whether the City Council is a place for a husband and wife.

There's no fight at Carolyn and Phil Berlin's home on Niagara Street. Both say the answer is yes.

That's because the pair are among seven candidates seeking the two open council seats Tuesday in a municipal primary election. The top four finishers in the mail-in balloting will face off in an April 10 general election.

They would make a great team on the five-member council, the two Berlins agree.

And that's the problem, their detractors say: Husband-and-wife council members are likely to agree on everything, stifling honest debate over issues that affect all of Burbank's 104,108 residents.

The couple's candidacies have been accompanied by acrimony. There have been angry letters to the local newspaper. Placards condemning marriedcouple council members have popped up in some frontyards.

One of them stands in front of City Councilman David Golonski's Avon Street home.

"I can tell you a lot of people have been asking where they can get these signs," said Golonski, a 14-year council veteran. "If they're both elected, they are going to be tightly aligned with another council member. The city would be handing over complete control to a tightly aligned majority."

What's wrong with that? the Berlins ask.

"We'd form a voting bloc? That's a good thing. We've had a bloc the other way for a long time," Carolyn Berlin said.

Phil Berlin agreed. "People want a change. They're tired of the same 4-1 voting bloc that's on the council now."

The Berlins acknowledge that they are in close agreement with a current council member, David Gordon.

They said Gordon, who has endorsed both of their candidacies, is always on the losing side of those 4-1 votes.

Gordon has placed a 16-foot banner promoting the Berlins on the roof of his optometry shop. He takes it down nightly to keep it from being vandalized, Carolyn Berlin said.

"Probably a couple of hundred of our yard signs have been stolen," she said. "The reason we put our picture on our sign is because we were being attacked as a married couple. We want people to know we don't have horns. Being married is supposed to be a good thing."

Carolyn Berlin, 60, and her husband have been married 28 years. Phil Berlin, 63, is an attorney who specializes in employment cases. She works in his law office with him.

Like the other five candidates -- Gary Bric, Vahe Hovanessian, Anja Reinke, Margaret Sorthun and Whit Prouty -- the Berlins cite protection of Burbank's neighborhoods as a top priority. As with most Los Angeles-area communities, the 17-square-mile city is eyed by builders eager to construct high-density redevelopment projects.

The two say they weren't surprised when their marital status emerged as a campaign issue.

"One candidate said we'll get angry and get in a fight and get a divorce," Carolyn Berlin said.

"It's scary what some have said. It's inappropriate," Phil Berlin said.

While they agree on most issues and sometimes even complete each other's sentences, Phil Berlin said he and his wife are independent thinkers.

"Because of our relationship, we respect other people's positions," he said.

"Because of our relationship, we're not intimidated by each other," she said.

They do disagree on some things.

"Like whether we should sell our '87 Corvette and whether we should get a big dog," she said.

"I drive it on weekends. And walking a Chihuahua isn't very macho," he said, patting the pair's tiny dog, Bonnie, as she sat between them on their living room couch.

Phil Berlin said he researched the legality of a husband and wife serving on the same City Council before the duo took out their candidate papers. He found that it would be "perfectly legal" for him and his wife to discuss city business together at home as long as they didn't do it in front of a third council member.

Although it is common to see spouses succeed each other in elected office, it is rare to find a husband and wife serving together.

A Jean Lafitte, La., couple are running for two Town Council seats in a March 31 election. Last November, a Laramie, Wyo., man unsuccessfully sought election to the City Council on which his wife sits.

In Manhattan Beach, a husband-and-wife City Council campaign was averted when one candidate withdrew from the March 6 race, which will fill two council seats.

Bev Morse, a writer, dropped out after learning that a friend, incumbent Mitch Ward, had filed to be a candidate. Her husband, businessman Stephen Morse, remains in the race.

"Steve and I originally began our campaign ... because we weren't sure if Mitch Ward was going to run for a second term," she wrote in a letter to a local newspaper announcing her withdrawal and her support for her husband and Ward. "I believe my husband is the better man for the job than I, better suited to and for working with the current council, and relighting the torch of morality and reason."

As for the Berlins, they feel they're both equally qualified. Carolyn Berlin said she served nine years on Burbank's planning board.

Phil Berlin said he served six years on the commission that oversees Burbank's Bob Hope Airport.

As if on cue, a jetliner coming in for a landing made a low pass over the pair's home. They were asked if such flyovers are common. They answered simultaneously.

"No," he said. "Yes," she said.

They turned to each other with startled grins.

"They typically approach the airport from the west," he said.

"I hear them more than he does because I'm home more," she said.

"He's entitled to his opinion," said Carolyn Berlin. "Just like I am."

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