May 10, 2001
A Matter of Integrity
In the neck-and-neck race for city attorney of Los Angeles, throw out the form sheets based on the customary political, ethnic and ideological benchmarks.
Both Michael "Mike" Feuer and Rockard "Rocky" Delgadillo are Democrats. They are vigorous young men (Mike is 42; Rocky is 40), both Harvard graduates, and both can cite impressive records of public service.
Reflecting their own roots, Feuer's endorsement list is tilted toward Jewish names, and Delgadillo's toward Latino supporters, but there are plenty of crossovers, plus the requisite numbers of African American, Anglo and Asian community leaders on both sides.
Feuer is generally viewed as a liberal and Delgadillo as a moderate, but the labels don't mean much to Republican Marvin Jubas, who is backing Feuer.
"If in real estate it's location, location, location, in the job of city attorney it's integrity, integrity, integrity," said Jubas, an attorney and philanthropist.
The Jewish Journal talked to both candidates. Feuer cut short a dinner address to meet at a Westside deli for a nearly two-hour chat, occasionally interrupted by handshakes by well-wishers.
Delgadillo, facing a heavily booked schedule leading up to Cinco de Mayo festivities, called in for a shorter phone interview.
Based on the interviews, background material and talks with leading Jewish supporters, here are sketches of the two men and of the office they seek as they vie to succeed James Hahn, now running for mayor.
The city attorney, in Feuer's words, is "the attorney general of Los Angeles." He runs an office with 459 lawyers, about equally divided between the civil and criminal branches, and close to 500 other staff members. The annual budget comes to $72 million, not counting the millions the city sets aside for liability payments.
To win the office, Feuer spent $1 million on the primary and expects to spend another million dollars by the June 5 election date. Delgadillo will probably spend even more.
Running in a four-person primary field, the two top vote-getters finished virtually in a dead heat, with Feuer getting 39 percent and Delgadillo 38 percent.
Feuer was born and raised in San Bernardino and began an unbroken string of political victories when he won his first election to become fourth-grade president in a racially mixed public school. He graduated with highest honors from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and at age 28 was named executive director of the public interest law firm Bet Tzedek Legal Services.
"In my eight years there, we helped some 50,000 people, Holocaust survivors, Latinos with Alzheimer's, all kinds of victims of slumlords, riots and earthquakes," Feuer said.
In 1995, he ran for the unexpired term of 5th District City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, defeating Yaroslavsky's wife, Barbara. Showing no rancor, Supervisor Yaroslavsky is now backing Feuer in the current race.
In six years on the city council, Feuer has gained a reputation as an independent thinker who has fought hard for tougher ethics laws, police reform, gun control, development limits and neighborhood empowerment.
He promises to pursue the same issues as city attorney, with emphasis on bringing the city's skyrocketing liability payments under control and cooperating with the federal government to clean up the Ramparts police scandal.
Feuer and his wife, Gail, an environmental attorney, are the parents of two children and members of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.
"I have always wanted to do something to make this a better world and lift up people," Feuer said. " I think of public service as a noble endeavor."
Delgadillo was born in East Los Angeles and said he "grew up dodging bullets, so no one has more direct experience in the need for gun control than I." At Franklin High School, he starred as a four-letter athlete and was chosen class president.
Recruited by Harvard on a football scholarship, he won both athletic and academic honors. After a short stint as a professional football player, he returned to Los Angeles as an inner-city teacher and coach. He then earned a law degree at Columbia University in New York.
Mayor Richard Riordan drafted Delgadillo as his point man for business and economic development. During the past four years, as deputy mayor, Delgadillo says, his office has attracted $20 billion in economic investments, yielding 200,000 new jobs.
As city attorney, he said, his emphasis will be on crime prevention, not just prosecution, to improve the quality of life in the city's poorest communities. He is especially concerned about school safety and plans to establish in all neighborhoods city attorney satellite offices that can deal with the daily minutiae of urban legal problems.
He and his wife, Michelle, are expecting their first child in a couple of weeks.
"I think Los Angeles is the most exciting city on the planet," said Delgadillo, "where different cultures come together and work together. We can become the center of Western civilization in the third millennium."
Backers of Mike Feuer are:
Rabbi Laura Geller, Temple Emanuel: "Mike represents everything I want in a public official. He is smart, committed, passionate on the important issues, and has tremendous integrity."
Howard Welinsky, chair of Democrats for Israel: "As chief legal officer, the city attorney must be able to stand up to the mayor and city council, when needed. As city councilman, Mike has shown the moral strength and conviction to take an independent stand."
Marvin Jubas: "Labels don't mean anything in this race. Mike was the most apolitical voice I know in the city council, who judged each issue on its merits."
Backing Rocky Delgadillo are:
Financier Eli Broad: "Rocky represents what is best about Los Angeles. He has demonstrated an ability to work with all the communities that make up our great city -- including the Jewish community." Rabbi Allen Freehling, University Synagogue: "I have been impressed with Rocky's work in the mayor's office. Sometimes, in choosing a candidate, you have to go by instinct, and I think it's time for Rocky to step up to the plate."
Democratic Assemblyman Paul Koretz: "I believe Rocky is the best qualified candidate.... We're generations beyond voting for someone just because he's Jewish. I'll vote for someone who'll fight for Jewish values."