Civil rights attorney Faisal Gill, who served as a senior Homeland Security official under President George W. Bush, is jumping into the race for Los Angeles City Attorney—and running as a progressive Democrat.
On Wednesday, Gill launched a campaign to succeed current City Attorney Mike Feuer, who is near the end of his second and final term and has already announced he is running for mayor.
A native of Pakistan who moved with his family to the United States as a child, Gill, 48, served as the policy director for the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division from 2003 to 2005. More recently, he’s worked as an attorney in private practice, representing such clients as Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of slain Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in a lawsuit against Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who U.S. intelligence determined approved Khashoggi’s killing. Ironically, Gill is currently representing music producer Antone Austin in a federal lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department and the City of Los Angeles, alleging racial profiling, excessive force, and unlawful arrest.
How a former Republican raised in Northern Virginia and with reputed ties to Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist wound up running for L.A. City Attorney—and has already snagged endorsements from Karen Bass, Ilhan Omar, and Ro Khanna—is quite a tale. In 2004, Gill was embroiled in controversy after the FBI discovered he had failed to list on security clearance documents his work in 2001 with the American Muslim Council, a now-defunct lobby whose founder, Abdurahman Alamoudi, was indicted in 2003 on terrorism-related money laundering charges.
He was briefly removed from his job but was ultimately reinstated after a department investigation found no reason to deny him a top-secret security clearance. Gill stepped down the following year. The Navy veteran ran as a Republican for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2007, lost, and then changed political parties the same year.
In an interview, Gill says the experience of being targeted by prominent Republicans like Congressman Peter King over his Muslim faith, his nationality, and his liberal views on immigration soured him on the GOP. A relative newcomer to L.A., Gill says he is running for City Attorney to hold the LAPD more accountable, to stop the practice of ticketing homeless people for things like vagrancy and trespassing, and to target slumlords who ignore city ordinances set in place to protect tenants. He and his wife and the couple’s three children moved to Porter Ranch in 2018 from Burlington, Vermont, where he was the first Muslim chair of the state Democratic Party. He said they relocated in part to be closer to Gill’s three children from a previous marriage, who live in L.A. He also lived in L.A. from 2008 to 2014.
“You go through a pretty big transformation when you face hatred,” he said of switching from Republican to Democrat. “I realized the Republican Party is OK with Muslims donating money, but that the minute a Muslim wants a seat at the table it’s a different story.”
He said the experience of fighting with the city attorney’s office to release body cam footage from the Austin arrest motivated him to run for city attorney.
For years, Gill has served as an advisor for the Council on Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group, and for the Democracy in the Arab World Now, an advocacy group founded by Khashoggi. In July 2014, journalist Glenn Greenwald reported that Gill was one of five prominent Muslim U.S. citizens that were under National Security Agency surveillance, according to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
For now, the other candidates in the race to succeed Feuer as City Attorney are Rick Chavez Zbur, executive director of the LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality California; attorney and nonprofit chair Teddy Kapur; Assistant U.S. Attorney Marina Torres; Hydee Feldstein Soto, a transactional lawyer and business consultant; and former Republican radio host turned-Democratic City Hall insider Kevin James.
In the lead up to the June 2022 primary election, the field is likely to get even more crowded.
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