City attorney candidate Mike Feuer at news conference in downtown Los Angeles. (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)
In his campaign to become Los Angeles city attorney, Mike Feuer has touted himself as someone who will work cooperatively with the mayor and City Council and avoid the squabbles that have marked the incumbent's tenure.
During previous stints on the council and in the Legislature, Feuer repeatedly won over colleagues to approve pioneering laws on contentious issues, including gun control.
But even some supporters say Feuer's stubborn, driven approach can also be antagonizing. Former colleagues describe the 54-year-old politician as a sometimes overly zealous — albeit intelligent — advocate for liberal causes.
"He had a reputation [as a councilman] as somebody who was not approachable, who wasn't easy to work with, somebody who was not a team player," said former Councilman Greig Smith, who has endorsed Feuer in the contest against City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, who has also had a bumpy relationship with fellow officials since winning office four years ago.
Smith, who was chief of staff to another councilman during Feuer's tenure, said Feuer is still intense, but has been easier to work with since a humbling election loss to Rocky Delgadillo in the 2001 city attorney's race.
Feuer says his fervor can be partly explained by his upbringing. His parents instilled in him a strong commitment to social justice and activism.
Feuer was born in San Bernardino, the oldest of three sons. His father was a schoolteacher and principal and his mother a college admissions officer.
He has been married for 29 years to Gail Ruderman Feuer, an L.A. County Superior Court judge. They live in a Fairfax District home assessed at $1.1 million and have a son and a daughter, both attending Yale.
Feuer, a graduate of Harvard Law School, first made a name for himself as the chief executive of Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which provides attorneys to low-income tenants involved in disputes with landlords.
In his eight years there Feuer tripled the number of volunteer attorneys working with the agency, expanded its clientele and created an action team to target the worst slum housing.
Feuer was elected to the City Council in 1995, representing a district extending from the Westside into the San Fernando Valley.
He quickly angered some colleagues with proposals to tighten restrictions on political fundraising and with his opposition to lifting a $10,000 spending limit on "officeholder" accounts that members used to pay for travel and meals.
Feuer also drew frowns with his call for a code of conduct for the council. Some members started referring to him derisively as "Saint Michael."
"He had a way of speaking to the council that was preachy sometimes," Smith recalled. One result was that members sometimes broke tradition and voted against Feuer's position on controversial development projects in his own district.
At the time, then-Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said Feuer's proposals were harming the council's reputation by implying that City Hall was corrupt.
Today, Ridley-Thomas is a member of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and says Feuer would make a good city attorney: "He is thoughtful and hard-working and very conscious of his moral compass."
Trutanich, however, has questioned whether Feuer has lived up to that high moral standard. Trutanich's campaign has charged that Feuer's contract with political consultant John Shallman hid the true cost of the campaign and allowed Feuer to stay below a spending limit that allowed him to get public matching funds. Feuer counters that the contract was proper and that Trutanich, who finished behind him in the general election, is "desperate."
Despite rubbing some colleagues the wrong way, Feuer was given leadership roles in the council, including chairmanship of the council's Budget and Finance Committee.
Feuer also won colleagues' approval of dozens of proposals, including gun control measures that limit the number of firearms Los Angeles residents can buy and require those buying bullets to provide a fingerprint so the police can track when they land in the hands of criminals.
Ron Deaton, the council's former top advisor, recalls Feuer as a councilman of integrity who was intellectually sharp. He was also ambitious.
But Feuer lost the 2001 race for city attorney after finishing first in the primary.
After that election, he worked as an attorney for the law firm Morrison & Foerster and taught pretrial litigation techniques at UCLA.
Trutanich has attacked Feuer as lacking the legal experience to be city attorney, saying in one mailer: "Mike Feuer has never tried a single case in a courtroom."
Feuer said he does have courthouse experience. He represented a firefighters group in a case that had him present oral arguments before a court of appeal. The court ruled against his attempt to invalidate a change in the Orange County charter, but Feuer won plaudits from his client for handling the complicated case.