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Gatto says frustration led to his comments

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Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) said Friday he regrets comments he made earlier in the week equating state Controller John Chiang’s decision to freeze lawmakers’ pay during the ongoing budget stalemate to creating a “Banana Republic.”

Gatto also caught heat for saying that because of the pay suspension, he would “have to explain to my wife and daughter that we won't be able to pay the bills because a politician chose to grandstand at our expense.”

Chiang invoked a voter-approved initiative to revoke the pay of lawmakers for every day a budget was late after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the budget passed by Democrats on June 15.

On Friday, Gatto said he made the comments out of frustration with the budget process, which has dragged on for months without resolution.

“I realize my statement came across terribly, and I ought to admit it publicly,” Gatto said. “I was frustrated. All elected officials need to come together to solve the vast problems facing the state. I was very frustrated and I let that frustration show.”

Brown is still seeking to negotiate a budget deal with Republicans who have balked at his insistence that temporary income, sales and vehicle tax hikes imposed in 2009 be extended until November, when voters can weigh in on a five-year extension of the taxes. The current tax rates are set to expire on July 1.

Gatto said he still believes Chiang was in the wrong.

“This has never been about pay,” Gatto said. “This is about the principle of an executive branch official appointing himself to withhold the pay of the Legislature until they do something he wants.”

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Prosecutors have closed inquiries into whether Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) and his campaign rival Sunder Ramani lived where they claimed to live during the 2010 Assembly race, settling the last of the dust raised during that stormy campaign.

David Demerjian, head of the public integrity unit of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, said both cases were closed May 12. The decision came months after the Fair Political Practices Commission wrapped up probes of alleged campaign finance violations against both candidates, and after the county registrar of voters looked into allegations by Republican Party officials of voter fraud in the 43rd Assembly District.

The result of the probes: no charges, no changed votes and no fines, though the FPPC found that the Gatto and Ramani campaigns committed minor violations of fundraising disclosure rules.

Ramani, a Republican and former president of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, said he was not surprised by the outcome of the district attorney’s probe, which started in August.

“It was nothing I was concerned with,” Ramani said, adding that he was transparent with voters and prosecutors about his residency. A homeowner in La Cañada Flintridge, Ramani rented an apartment on Alameda Avenue near Lake Street in January 2010. During the campaign, residents of the apartment building said they rarely if ever saw him there, though Ramani said he would have moved in full time had he been elected.

“This is what politics is,” Ramani said, “getting people distracted with things that don’t matter.”

Ramani is critical of gerrymandered legislative boundaries that place his La Cañada neighborhood just outside the Assembly district that includes Glendale and Burbank. He said he hopes to see the three cities placed in the same district when the California Citizens Redistricting Commission finishes redrawing legislative boundaries in August.

Ramani also said he would consider running for office again.

“Never say never,” he said.

Carl Hunter, a Silver Lake resident and Gatto supporter who sent prosecutors a letter complaining about Ramani, said he put his concerns behind him when Gatto defeated Ramani in November.

“The election’s done,” he said. “It’s like whipping a dead horse.”

Jane Barnett, the Burbank-based chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee, claimed in a letter to prosecutors in October that Gatto was using a Hollywood address outside the 43rd district on campaign checks he wrote to his former boss, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). Gatto said the Hollywood home is an investment property, but that he has lived in Silver Lake since 2004.

Barnett said she expected the complaint might not result in formal charges.

“As far as the D.A. is concerned, nobody died,” Barnett said. “These elections are probably better left alone as far as the D.A. is concerned.”

Gatto said Friday he was never contacted by prosecutors, and he was pleased the matter is closed.

“There are a lot of things said during campaigns that aren’t true, and it is nice every once in awhile to have them cleared up,” he said.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) this month offered into the Congressional Record words of praise for retired Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian, who for 32 years served as Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America.

Hovsepian, celebrating his 60th year in the priesthood, is a native of Lebanon who moved to the United States in 1956. In 1967 he organized and led a new Armenian diocese in Canada and in 1971 was named leader of the North America Western Diocese, which now is headquartered in Burbank.

Schiff credited Hovsepian for launching several Armenian schools in Southern California and for organizing intensive aid efforts after a 1988 earthquake struck Armenia.

“I ask all members to join me in thanking Archbishop Vatche Hovsepian for his selfless dedication and commitment to the Armenian community and wish him well in all future endeavors,” Schiff said.
 
 

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