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Carmen Trutanich lags in endorsements against Mike Feuer

The incumbent L.A. city attorney has seen some supporters from four years ago switch sides this time around, while others have chosen to stay on the sidelines.

April 08, 2013|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich shakes the hand of his challenger, Mike Feuer, before a debate March 20.
Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich shakes the hand of his challenger,… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich offers an explanation for why his reelection challenger has racked up the lion's share of endorsements as the May 21 runoff approaches: "He's part of the old-boys club; he's a career politician and I'm independent."

But former lawmaker Mike Feuer points to the backing he's received from hundreds of elected officials — including both of California's U.S. senators — civic and other groups, environmental organizations, labor, law and community leaders as evidence of "a clear desire for change" in the city's top legal post. It's rare for a challenger to have such an array of endorsements, Feuer says.

The value of endorsements is often debated, but candidates still aggressively seek — and tout — as many as they can.

The bitter race between Feuer and Trutanich is no exception. The incumbent, in addition to having a considerably shorter list of endorsements, faces other disadvantages in the support game: Several of those who backed him four years ago have switched sides, and some other key players in that victory have stayed on the sidelines.

Others, however, are rallying around Trutanich. They include former Mayor Richard Riordan, county Supervisor Gloria Molina and former Dist. Atty. Robert Philibosian. Philibosian called Trutanich "the most successful city attorney in recent memory."

One who is staying out this time is former county Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. In 2009, the county's top prosecutor was one of Trutanich's most visible supporters. Cooley said recently that he admires much of what the city attorney, who won office after serving as a county prosecutor and head of a private law firm, has done. He cited wins in civil lawsuits and "a remarkable job of managing the office" in the face of budget cuts. But he has qualms about Trutanich's style, Cooley added, including his getting into what he called "unnecessary and counterproductive scraps" with the City Council and other officials. "He could have used a little more honey and a little less vinegar," Cooley said.

He also reiterated his criticism of Trutanich's decision to run for district attorney last year, which broke a promise to serve two terms at City Hall. "I strongly encouraged Mr. Trutanich not to enter the D.A.'s race.... I was very disappointed," said Cooley, who supported Jackie Lacey, the winner in that race.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which spent nearly $750,000 on an independent campaign supporting Trutanich four years ago, also has stayed out of the current contest. League spokesman Eric Rose said the organization "does not plan on getting involved in this race." That could change, he said, because the group's political arm is "constantly evaluating all the races." (During the primary, President Tyler Izen said the league had "several friends" in the race and was reluctant to single out one.)

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and former City Controller Laura Chick also backed Trutanich in his first campaign. Now Waters is supporting Feuer, a Harvard Law graduate who headed a legal aid organization, worked at some of the city's most prestigious law firms and served on the City Council and in the Assembly.

Feuer supporter Chick said she backed Trutanich in his first bid because he promised to clarify her department's right to audit citywide elected officials whose departments oversaw city programs. "But once he won the election, and he didn't need me anymore, he reneged," Chick said. "That says an enormous amount about his character." Trutanich said an appellate court settled the matter and the issue was no longer under his purview. He contends Chick was upset because he declined to pay her legal bills in a related lawsuit.

Feuer had an advantage in timing. Facing term limits in the Assembly last year, he was able to begin lining up support for the city attorney race while Trutanich was still running for district attorney.

Westside City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he likes Trutanich and said he was far superior to his 2009 rival, then-Councilman Jack Weiss. But Rosendahl added that he has known Feuer "for many, many years" and promised him an endorsement while Trutanich was campaigning for D.A. He called Feuer "a hero" for his successful efforts to clear the way for Measure R, a mass transit sales tax measure, to appear on the county ballot in 2008. Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg co-chaired Trutanich's 2009 transition team but is backing Feuer now because of growing doubts "about Trutanich's ability to represent the public trust."

Trutanich can claim at least one former Feuer backer, Sheriff Lee Baca, who initially endorsed the former lawmaker but switched sides when Trutanich decided to run for reelection after failing to make the runoff contest for D.A.

At least two other elected officials, council President Herb Wesson and Councilman Tom LaBonge, are endorsing both candidates. "I'm backing them both because they're both great guys," LaBonge said.

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