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Mayor hires public interest lawyer as No. 2 policy advisor

August 28, 2007|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced today he had hired as his No. 2 policy advisor one of the city's top public interest lawyers -- an attorney who spent nearly a decade advocating on behalf of immigrants, low-income neighborhoods and homeless residents in need of legal representation.

Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff will be Dan Grunfeld, president and chief executive of Public Counsel, the largest organization in the United States that provides legal aid to the poor and disenfranchised.

Grunfeld, who will coordinate Villaraigosa's policy agenda, has never worked for a government agency. Still, the Beverlywood resident said he had a background in policy, having teamed up with Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley to fight elder abuse and having sued Kaiser Permanente over the alleged dumping of homeless patients on skid row.

"Part of my job has been sitting down on a regular basis with city and county officials to deal with some of the most complex issues facing our community," he said.

Grunfeld, 47, replaces Marcus Allen, whose departure two months ago was considered by many at City Hall to be a serious loss for Villaraigosa's administration. Allen, who came to Villaraigosa's office after working for City Controller Laura Chick, was an experienced hand in local government who pushed for ways to make city departments more effective.

Grunfeld, the son of a diplomat, was born in Jerusalem and split his time between Tel Aviv and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, while growing up.

Public Counsel has a $7-million budget and provides $66 million in legal representation each year. With 3,600 volunteer lawyers, the group helps low-income communities form nonprofits and nonprofit developers who want to build affordable housing.

"He has spent his career advocating on behalf of communities," said Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo. "He did as an attorney on one side, and he'll do it as a policy advisor on the other."

Grunfeld will report to Villaraigosa's chief of staff, Robin Kramer, who had worked in a similar position for former Mayor Richard Riordan. The other deputy chief of staff in Villaraigosa's office is Jimmy Blackman, who focuses on external issues, such as the mayor's relationships with politicians and government agencies.

Villaraigosa's hire drew praise from attorney Wayne Barsky, the vice chairman of Public Counsel's board of directors, who said Grunfeld had been passionate about such issues as homelessness, child care, adoption and the operation of health clinics in low-income neighborhoods.

"He's just someone who very deeply cares about people and about public policy, and about making sure that everyone in our community has access to equal justice," Barsky said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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