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Mike Feuer pitches L.A. voters on three decades of ‘idealism’

The longtime California elected official, looking to succeed Adam Schiff, leads a crowded field in fundraising. But is it what voters want?

Los Angeles is a city of stars. The lineup of candidates running to replace Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) shows it. 

There’s Ben Savage, the “Boy Meets World” star who has garnered many adoring national headlines but not much political capital, according to federal fundraising reports. Also running is Maebe A. Girl, a well-known local drag queen and representative on the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. 

But analysts say the likely frontrunner in the 30th Congressional District, which is heavily Democratic, will be not these West L.A. personalities but rather one of the several nose-to-the-grindstone local politicians who have entered the race sensing a rare opportunity to win a congressional seat that has been held by Schiff for the last two decades. 

“These seats don’t tend to turn over all that often. There’s probably been two generations of up-and-coming politicians who got old waiting for Schiff to move on,” said Dan Schnur, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

No one in the race has been on the L.A. political scene longer than Mike Feuer, who until last year was the Los Angeles city attorney. Though the race is still a year away, Feuer who previously served on the L.A. City Council and in the state Assembly, led the other candidates in fundraising in the first quarter of this year, bringing in $657,000 in contributions. 

Feuer’s pitch is that he’s maintained his idealism throughout his nearly 30 years in public office. He argues that his decades in public service have left him no less impassioned than when he was a young lawyer running Bet Tzedek, a legal services nonprofit that began with the aim of helping indigent Holocaust survivors — and that his excitement, coupled with his experience actually governing, makes him the right candidate for the district.

“I’ve devoted my entire career to being a very idealistic leader who brings those values to fashioning practical solutions to tough issues,” Feuer told Jewish Insider in an interview last week. 

He starts the race with some name recognition. But in a campaign crowded with other elected officials vying for the same seat, Feuer, who is 65, will have to convince voters that he views the position as more than just another notch on his resume. His most recent campaign for mayor last year ended early. He dropped out of the L.A. mayoral election after consistently polling well below the frontrunners. (Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass endorsed Feuer in the congressional race.)

Karen Bass takes the microphone after Mike Feuer, left, publicly drops out of the mayoral race to endorse Bass at the Encino Park on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“When you’ve got as long of a record as Mike Feuer, it can be a plus in the sense that there’s a lot of people in the community who are familiar with you. But if the community has decided they’re looking for newer energy or newer blood, that could turn the other way,” said Andrew Lachman, the president of Democrats for Israel California. 

The other Democratic candidates include state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Assemblymember Laura Friedman, L.A. school board member Nick Melvoin and West Hollywood City Councilmember Sepi Shyne. 

Stretching from West Hollywood to Glendale and Burbank, the district has a significant Jewish population. Feuer grew up a couple hours inland in San Bernardino, where he was one of just a few Jewish kids at his school. 

“I felt from a young age the responsibility, as a Jewish kid, to represent the Jewish community in ways that would make my parents and the community proud,” Feuer explained.

“Growing up in San Bernardino, for a Jewish kid, meant things like when I was in third grade, the Six-Day War broke out. And my teacher turned to the class and said, ‘Mike, would you please explain the Jewish perspective on the Middle Eastern crisis to the class,’” Feuer recalled. 

The experience “made me much more empathetic to people than otherwise I would have been, who often are marginalized, and also deepened my attachment to what it is to be Jewish,” he added.

He pointed to his family tree as an explanation for why he got into public service. His paternal grandmother left Russia, pregnant with Feuer’s father, soon after the Russian Revolution when her family saw that it was too dangerous for them. Her husband pledged to meet her in America, but he never got out. 

“If you were a good person, politically, my grandmother’s highest compliment was this person is very liberal. She was a big fan of the idea that everybody deserved a chance in life and that government existed to try to lift people up,” said Feuer. 

His maternal grandparents came to America from Eastern Europe only after the ship they were taking was turned away and docked in Cuba for several months, where the couple met. Feuer’s father served as a pilot in World War II and spent time as a Nazi prisoner of war after his plane was shot down. After he returned home, he decided to pursue what he viewed as “the most important work” — teaching.

“If there’s one thing in my life, one moment, that really cemented for me, that I needed to pursue work, for other people, it was that,” said Feuer. 

Given his family’s background, Feuer pledged to keep issues of concern to the Jewish community, including antisemitism, at the top of his agenda. 

“I’m very interested to see what the Biden administration is going to be announcing,” Feuer said, referring to the White House’s forthcoming national antisemitism strategy. “There could be some deep collaboration there,” he added. 

“I intend to be deeply involved on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East,” he said. “For me, this is not a new role at all.”

He pointed to legislation he authored in the state Assembly that barred public entities in California from doing business with Iran. “I got involved in those efforts for one reason: that Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to Israel,” he said.

Feuer’s candidacy has earned the backing of some influential segments of L.A.’s pro-Israel community, but the community has not yet coalesced around a single candidate. 

Sandy Samuels, a member of AIPAC’s national council, recently hosted Feuer for a fundraiser and is enthusiastically supporting him. “He would be an immediate player in Congress,” Samuels said of Feuer. 

But Howard Welinsky, a Democratic pro-Israel activist, said Feuer isn’t his choice for this race. “He never got into double digits in polling for when he ran for mayor, so I think that’s why some people think that this is not his race,” said Welinsky. He has donated to both Portantino and Friedman, a progressive who is active in the California Legislative Jewish Caucus. (Welinsky has supported both Feuer and Melvoin in other races, but joked that it “gets expensive” when you want to support multiple candidates.)

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Mike Feuer speaks about the homeless crisis during the candidates debate at USCs Bovard Auditorium on Tuesday, March 22, 2022 in Los Angeles, Calif.

“From a Jewish community standpoint, there’s no bad candidate,” said Lachman of Democrats for Israel California.

Part of Feuer’s message to voters is that, after three decades in politics, he knows how to get things done. He presented himself as a consensus-builder, someone who can have real conversations with political opponents.

“That is the importance of listening and collaborating with people, even if you disagree with them 90% of the time, finding that 10% where there is common ground, and where we can move forward is something that’s extremely important to me,” said Feuer.

Similarly, he said he hoped to engage with far-left Democrats who are hostile to Israel.

“I anticipate being in many discussions with those members to try to employ every bit of persuasive skill I have to try to reverse that trend,” Feuer noted. “I think it’s very important for those of us who have such deep, profound ties to Israel to be able to have candid, constructive conversations, to try to to move the pendulum back in a direction that I think is much more productive, which is to have the united Democratic Party supportive of the State of Israel.”

Feuer insists that the compromise that’s required to get things done in politics has not put a dent in his vision. “I’m very impatient about making the world better. I have very little tolerance for the slow, bureaucratic pace when it comes to major issues,” he said. 

As city attorney, Feuer was known as a progressive who frequently and loudly stood up to former President Donald Trump. (He told JI he hopes President Joe Biden wins reelection in 2024.) In January 2017, when Trump banned travelers from several Muslim nations from entering the U.S., Feuer drove to LAX airport to try to lobby for the release of detained travelers. He also made public safety and countering gun violence a priority.

In Congress, his concerns would be similar to what he worked on in Los Angeles: preventing gun violence, reversing the homelessness epidemic, combating the climate crisis and “protecting fundamental rights,” he said, including reproductive rights and LGBTQ freedoms.

“What our nation needs right now is leaders committed to leaving a mark that will change the world for people forever,” said Feuer, “and I’m looking to collaborate with people, even those I disagree with, to get that done.”

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