L.A. Mayoral Candidate Mike Feuer Picks His Lane As Race Takes Shape

Is the city attorney’s campaign strategy a winning one?
306

Mike Feuer is one of the most experienced politicians in Los Angeles. With eight years under his belt as City Attorney, and past gigs on the City Council and in the state Assembly, he’s a veteran not just of governing, but of running for office. He’s got a nearly unblemished campaign record, and though he lost his first bid for City Attorney in 2001, he has now won the post twice.

All of which makes it, well, interesting that much of his run for mayor has felt underwhelming. This isn’t entirely his fault—he launched his campaign to succeed Eric Garcetti on March 10, 2020, and a week later L.A. was on full COVID lockdown, so good luck making any real headway in messaging or fundraising.

But as public health and the economy have improved, other candidates have captured more attention than Feuer. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass has ridden a wave of momentum since the idea of her running began percolating in August, and she drew a feverish crowd to a kickoff event last month. On Oct. 18 her campaign announced that she had already raised more than $1 million.

Then there’s District 15 Councilmember Joe Buscaino. He jumped into the race this past March, and by the June 30 campaign finance deadline he had pulled in $818,000; that gave him more in two and a half months than the $721,000 Feuer had amassed in over a year.

When it comes to campaigning, experience and money matter, but so do telling a story and choosing a lane. Bass is thriving in the role of the beloved Congressmember who could return to L.A. to right its many wrongs, chief among them homelessness. Buscaino is charting a course as the ex-cop who aims to be compassionate in getting people off the streets, but who also won’t shy away from clearing tent encampments if people experiencing homelessness refuse offers of help.

Now, finally, Feuer seems to be shaking off his doldrums, and in recent weeks, as the field has grown—Councilmember Kevin de León and business executive Jessica Lall have entered the race—he has begun to more clearly carve his path: Mike Feuer wants to be the good governance candidate, the guy who makes City Hall more accessible, representative and better-functioning for 4 million Angelenos.

His vision was on display on the morning of Monday, Nov. 1, when he stood in front of a small crowd outside City Hall to announce a double-shot ballot measure that would expand the City Council from 15 to 30 members, while also making the snakebit council redistricting process more independent.

“It’s going to take an army across the city of Los Angeles of volunteers to change the status quo,’ said Feuer. “But that’s the key theme: The status quo isn’t working for us in the city of Los Angeles.”

Feuer seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself, displaying an easygoing approach as he hobnobbed with supporters before delivering his prepared remarks. He displayed a confident manner and punched his points. He sought to differentiate himself from other politicians as he discussed the redistricting mess, saying that after he appointed Judge Carlos Moreno to the panel in charge of drawing new lines, the two never spoke as the mapmaking progressed.

“But that’s not the way it worked for so many others,” Feuer declared. “The current system is far from transparent. The current system allows politicians to appoint members to pull strings behind the scenes.”

Like anyone who has made a career in elected office, Feuer has ardent supporters and vocal detractors, and as is usually the case, the naysayers generate more attention. While Feuer can cite a number of efforts his office has undertaken to combat homelessness, including a program to help unhoused individuals with misdemeanors clear their records, others charge he has made missteps. That includes a cadre of opponents (Buscaino among them) who complain that when he chose to settle a lawsuit against the city rather than go to trial, the decision allowed people in encampments to hold on to numerous large items that block sidewalks.

It’s hard to tell how much traction he is making with voters. Feuer has a long and impressive record on advocating for gun control, and he was early in going after Wells Fargo for opening accounts without its customers’ consent, but neither matter seems to be on the front burner right now. He expanded his office’s neighborhood prosecutor program, which is helpful to communities, but most Angelenos have no idea it exists.

Feuer is highly intelligent and can expound on myriad subjects, and he is more quick-witted and funnier that most people realize—check out the campaign video narrated from the point of view of his mustache (Jason Alexander voices the ’stache). But he also saw the City Attorney’s office raided in 2019 by the FBI as part of an investigation into a confusing DWP billing debacle, and though Feuer has not been charged with any personal wrongdoing, from a voting perspective, this is a lousy time for city officials with even the scent of a federal investigation around them.

It’s against this backdrop that Feuer is seeking to trampoline to the mayor’s suite, and is positioning himself as the guy who knows what’s wrong with City Hall and how to deliver a Mr. Fix-It approach.

Feuer, by the way, is 100 percent right about the need to boost the size of the council and reform the redistricting process. The 15 councilmembers each represent about 260,000 constituents, and more members working for fewer people stands to make elected officials more responsive. Feuer is also drumbeating his intent to cut each councilmember’s $223,829 salary in half.

But no matter how right Feuer is, there are crucial questions: Is this a winning campaign strategy? Is being the good governance candidate enough to inspire people to Inkavote his name on election day? Or is it simply too wonky, a smart concept that will be overwhelmed by other candidates with flashier issues occupying different lanes?

No one knows the answer right now, and plenty can and will happen as the mayoral primary approaches. It takes place on June 7, 2022, about seven months from now.