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Now the Hard Part : Councilman-Elect has to Keep Pledges He Made as Candidate

June 11, 1995|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A young man devoted to public service troops tirelessly up and down the streets of the community. He knocks on doors, telling anyone who will listen of his plans for a new era at City Hall. Brimming with ideas and promising good government, he commits himself to making every neighborhood in the district a better place to live. The courage of his convictions is infectious, so voters abandon old allegiances. Against the odds, they vote him into office. Now the hard part begins.

If this story seems to describe the rise of newly elected Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer, it does. But the description is an equally apt account of the election of Feuer's predecessor, Zev Yaroslavsky, two decades ago.

During 19 years at the helm of the 5th District, Yaroslavsky ruled sometimes with an iron fist, sometimes with a velvet glove and sometimes, critics have complained, with a meat cleaver. He got rave reviews galore, but also his fair share of pans.

Though Feuer is understandably basking in the mandate voters handed him Tuesday, when he won 68% of the vote, he is only too aware of what lies ahead. After months of making promises to voters, he now has to keep them.

Fast.

Elected to fill out now-County Supervisor Yaroslavsky's term on the council, Feuer faces voters again in two years.

That's not much time to make an imprint on a district that includes Westwood, the Fairfax area and Cheviot Hills, as well as Sherman Oaks, Studio City and the hillside communities that connect the Westside to the Valley.

Feuer has promised a lot.

His first priority is putting police substations and drop-in centers in the district. He has promised to devote himself to ethics reform. Another priority is setting up neighborhood councils to give constituents a decision-making voice in their communities. And then there are the large and small neighborhood-specific matters--among the largest of which are redeveloping the business districts in Sherman Oaks and Westwood Village.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, is Feuer's vow to persuade people that local government can be effective and to inspire them to work in their communities--and on problems facing the city at large.

One of the issues he faces is the Yaroslavsky legacy. And one thing is certain: An honors student who graduated from Harvard College and law school, Feuer wants to build a straight-A legacy of his own.

He starts the task with the momentum that goes with being a big winner who vanquished a better-financed candidate with a household name in the district: Barbara Yaroslavsky, Zev's wife, who won a meager 32% of vote.

Four months ago, Feuer was a virtual unknown. Then, "his message caught fire," said Rick Taylor, who was hired by Barbara Yaroslavsky after the primary. "He had phenomenal momentum."

Beating someone bearing the Yaroslavsky name also gives Feuer a chance to chart his own course. And the margin of victory starts Feuer out with more cachet among his colleagues than is typical of a new member of the council.

Another thing Feuer has going for him is independence from Mayor Richard Riordan, who went to the mat for Yaroslavsky, portraying Feuer in campaign mail as an ultra-liberal.

On the day after the election, Feuer sat down with Riordan, saying later that he does not anticipate an antagonistic relationship with the city's chief official.

"For the city to function effectively, both the mayor and I agree we have to work with mutual respect and be very open with each other," Feuer said.

The mayor's council allies and critics alike praised Feuer last week, though only one of them, Westside Councilman Marvin Braude of the 11th District, endorsed his candidacy.

"He has the attributes of a model elected official," said 2nd District Councilman Joel Wachs, a Riordan ally. "He brings a great intellect, compassion and an extraordinary commitment of energy."

Mark Ridley-Thomas of the 8th District, a frequent mayoral critic, pointed out that he shares Feuer's history of involvement in social justice issues. Feuer formerly headed a nonprofit legal services agency, Bet Tzedek.

"I expect he'll be viewed as one of the more thoughtful members of the council," Ridley-Thomas said.

Accolades from new colleagues aside, however, it's the folks in the district Feuer must please. For some of them, he is bound to be an improvement, if only because their relations with City Hall have no way to go but up.

These are homeowners who say they were cut off from City Hall after their persistent criticism of Zev Yaroslavsky.

"It was a sweet day," said one such voter, Westwood activist Sandy Brown, on the day after the election. "It's such a good feeling . . . to have hope again."

Another active Westside homeowner, Val Cole, is also is enthused about a new era for the district. Voters, she said, sent "an overwhelming message to all politicians that a community will only endure being bypassed and locked out of the process so long. Then it rises up and votes its displeasure."

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