Faisal Gill and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Cityside Column: The City Attorney candidate finished first in the primary, but is taking heat from Karen Bass, Rick Caruso and the County Dems

All political campaigns have ups and downs—it’s the nature of the beast, and there is constant fluctuation with fundraising, endorsements, and much more. For leading candidates, it’s rare that any single day sets the tone for their political bid, in either a positive or negative manner.

That said: Friday, July 15, was not a date that Faisal Gill, who finished first in the June primary for City Attorney and has advanced to the November runoff, will be marking with a happy face in his campaign diary.

It was the equivalent of one of those games every NBA team has, where shots won’t fall and they end up drubbed by 40 points. Or, if you prefer comparisons to children’s literature, then you could swap in his name for the titular Alexander in the 1972 book by Judith Viorst, as Gill did have a truly terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

It started with a thump for those who still receive a daily newspaper, as a Los Angeles Times print article that morning reported that the State Bar of California had briefly placed Gill, a civil rights attorney, on involuntary inactive status due to a license filing snafu. It was only short-term, and the article detailed how everything had been rectified and the license restored. Still, if you’re running for city attorney, you don’t want any news story that involves your name, the State Bar of California, and the word “inactive.”

That was just the start—later, the very core of the candidate’s campaign drew fire.

Gill is among a cadre of progressive candidates who scored big in the June 7 primary. The onetime Virginia Republican has a campaign platform that tilts hard left, and the homepage of his website trumpets his three priorities: police reform, criminal justice reform, and housing and homelessness. These may not be the core mission of the City Attorney’s office, where the grit and grind are about writing laws, defending Los Angeles in litigation, and prosecuting misdemeanors. But the platform echoes that of progressive types who in recent years won top prosecutor posts across the country. Yes, I know that Chesa Boudin was recalled as San Francisco D.A. and L.A. County D.A. George Gascón is facing a recall attempt, but both did win elections.

Gill was hardly overwhelmingly supported by voters in the contest to succeed termed-out Mike Feuer, but neither was anyone else. The 137,554 votes he claimed worked out to 24.2 percent and put him first in a seven-person field. Finance attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto squeaked into the runoff with 19.9 percent.

A cornerstone of Gill’s campaign was a pledge, if elected, not to prosecute certain misdemeanors for 100 days after taking office, and to use the time to examine policies. This stance was no secret, but on July 12, mayoral candidate Rick Caruso decided to make a thing of it and of his rival Karen Bass’ previous endorsement of Gill. In an email to supporters, Caruso’s law-and-order fueled campaign suggested people ask, “why is Karen Bass supporting D.A. George Gascón and City Attorney candidate Faisal Gill?”

This was the chum in the water and on Friday the sharks swarmed. 

At 11:07 a.m., the Bass campaign threw Gill overboard. Bass advisor Doug Herman said in a prepared statement: “Karen Bass absolutely disagrees with Faisal Gill’s proposal for a 100-day moratorium on misdemeanor criminal filings, and in fact, our campaign contacted the Gill campaign and withdrew the endorsement on Wednesday.”

Caruso swung hard in a press conference that morning, hitting both Bass and Gill. But more damning was the blow delivered by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, which took aim at Gill and tweeted, “When you’ve run for office in other states then relocate to run in a new city, have Federalist ties and pretend to hold ‘progressive views’, AND have a history of Anti-LGBT views and rhetoric then maybe elected office in LA isn’t for you.”

It added “@GillforLA ain’t it” and urged a vote for Feldstein Soto.

Twitter is a cesspool, of course, and it’s people, not tweets, that actually vote. Still, it’s a harsh message from the umbrella organization for County Democrats.

Gill found himself between a rock and a progressive place. He clearly understood that zapping the popular Bass wouldn’t play well, and on Friday tweeted, “Regardless of the events of today, Karen Bass is a personal friend & I am proud to support her mayoral run.”

He turned his ire on Caruso, issuing a statement labeling the developer a “former anti-choice billionaire” and, in case someone didn’t get the message, saying a moment later, “It’s no surprise that after being rejected by voters in the June election for mayor, billionaire Rick Caruso is engaging in fear-mongering tactics.” On the “in for a penny, in for a pound” theme, in the next paragraph, he slagged off Caruso as “filthy rich.”

Gill said that his moratorium would apply to low-level crimes, such as loitering and drug possession, and that he would look for “common sense mental health diversions for minor offenses.” His statement maintains that he will prosecute “egregious” crimes such as assault and domestic battery.

There are nearly four months until runoff day, but this situation has the potential to open a very difficult period for Gill, as all of a sudden he has to run against Feldstein Soto while also taking shots from Caruso and Bass. You can be damn sure that both will be asked many times, including at televised debates, for their thoughts on Gill and his proposed moratorium. Voters will be routinely reminded that Bass yanked her endorsement.

There will be other hurdles and waves of opposition. On July 11, four City Attorney candidates who failed to make the runoff—Marina Torres, Richard Kim, Kevin James and Teddy Kapur—all united to endorse Feldstein Soto.

Gill’s past will also be in play, starting with his party hopping and 0-2 electoral record. In 2007, running as a Republican, he lost a race for the Virginia House of Delegates. Nine years later, repositioned as a Democrat, he failed in a bid for the Vermont State Senate.

He also could be susceptible to suggestions that he is trying to be like… filthy rich billionaire Caruso. According to Los Angeles City Ethics Commission disclosures, Gill loaned himself $1.15 million during the primary, more than three times the $311,000 he raised from donors. Granted, that doesn’t approach Caruso’s $40 million personal spend, but it is 23 times the $50,000 Feldstein Soto loaned her campaign.

Is this a mountain of potentially bad news? Yes. But Gill has what the six other city attorney candidates don’t—a first-place finish in the primary. When you lead, people come at you.

He has further advantages. He clearly has cash to spend. And on June 7, he showed that Los Angeles is ready to embrace progressive candidates. Gill has a compelling personal story of being born in Pakistan, growing up as the son of a Washington, D.C. taxi driver, serving in the Navy, and finding success as an attorney.

And if he comes under more fire, expect his team to dig into Soto’s past.

The coming months will be tough, but City Attorney races should be tough—the office is too important for someone to skate in unexamined. Both Gill and Feldstein Soto will have small wins and losses in the near future. Nov. 8 will arrive and Los Angeles will learn who is the next City Attorney, and who had a very bad day.

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