After out-raising all of his opponents, Mike Feuer is riding high toward a seat in Congress
“Feuer Causes Furor” was the cheeky headline the Los Angeles Times ran soon after Mike Feuer was first elected to L.A. City Council and his man-on-a-mission style had begun to irk some of his colleagues, “who expected that a new member should be seen and not heard,” he remembers.
But Feuer (rhymes with “fewer”) prefers to take action, even if it rocks the boat.
“I’m always in a hurry,” he told WEHOville. I’m very intense. I am impatient about making change. I think we should be doing big things.”
Feuer served as a councilmember from 1994 to 2001, then as a State Assemblymember from 2004 to 2012 before serving as L.A. City Attorney from 2013 until 2022. Last year, he made a run for Mayor before dropping out to endorse his friend and eventual winner Karen Bass. When Feuer announced he was running for Congress, Mayor Bass was the first to endorse him.
“When Mayor Bass endorsed me, she said, ‘I really need a partner in Washington on homelessness and creating affordable housing,’” Feuer said. “And I intend to be that champion in Washington.”
He believes the district needs a proactive, idealistic representative in Congress.
“I think public servants should be inspiring. I think one of the reasons that you see the way this race is shaping up is that people are looking for leaders who have shown that they can make big transformative change happen.
“I’m running because I think I have the experience and the innovation and the leadership and the practical skills to make change happen, to be effective from day one. That’s what our nation needs in leadership right now, that’s what our district needs right now, that’s what our district has come to expect.”
So far, he’s out-raised all of his opponents in the race, with $657,288 in donations.
Feuer’s sense of urgency was heightened by a brush with death he had years ago.
He was in his Toyota Prius driving to former District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s swearing-in ceremony when a truck ran a red light and put him in the ICU. The situation was dire — the doctors insisted that Feuer’s wife sleep next to him in case the worst happened. But he was in the middle of campaign season, and there was an important forum he was scheduled to speak at. Instead of spending the next few weeks hospitalized, he pulled himself together and hit the campaign trail running.
“I’ve always been very intense about the work I do and very focused on achieving stuff. But after that accident, I had a particularly acute sense of how short life is, how everything can turn on a dime. We have this little moment to burn brightly, and we’re done. And, I, and that I think helps define me as a person, and it defines the way I perform in public service.”
ON ISSUES AFFECTING THE DISTRICT
Issue #1 on the streets of the cities I represent is homelessness. People are very concerned about gun violence. Kids wonder if they’re going to be next. Young people in particular are wondering, “Can I ever afford to live here?” Those issues are top of mind in neighborhoods throughout the region. But when we get to federal issues, everybody cares as they should about whether we’re going to have a sustainable planet in the next generation, and the climate crisis has to be addressed like the urgent emergency it is. There are LGBTQ members of our community in general who are feeling, on the one hand, that California is a leader among states protecting their rights, but they’re wondering whether it will be federal actions jeopardizing that leadership. Inflation is causing great concern for people. Wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. And I think we have a real opportunity here in the LA region generally to take advantage of the convergence of the need for an economy for everybody. We can build an economy here that helps us contend with the climate crisis. We have the ability to be a leader on energy, on transportation, on public transit, on water conservation, on water recycling. There is a real possibility that in addressing our climate crisis, the LA region can thrive with representatives who know what it is to bring resources and jobs home.
ON POTENTIALLY BEING THE MINORITY PARTY IN CONGRESS
Well, first, it’s not going to happen. The (GOP) speakership is going to be very short. You know how many deals (Kevin McCarthy) had to make with the most extreme members of his party just to hold on to power? And that’s gonna, I think, come back to haunt the Republicans in the next election cycle. There are so many Republicans, for example, in New York state, who barely won districts that President Biden won. Just changing those seats back to Democratic control will change Congress.
But if for some reason, we don’t, there are still real opportunities (for Democrats) to make an impact in their communities. I mean, look at Mayor Bass, for example. When Karen was in Congress for much of her ten years, she was in the minority, but she found ways to identify issues where she could find common ground. There are always opportunities that I will find that fit with the priorities. There are Republicans who really care about mental illness and the issue of homelessness. I have enough experience as a legislator to know that there are always opportunities to be immediately effective in a legislative position. I’ll still find a way to be an incredibly effective member.
ON HIM VS. HIS OPPONENTS IN THE RACE
So first of all, I know most of my competitors, the major competitors, and they’re good people who have chosen to be in public service, which I respect tremendously. Each of them has important, positive qualities. You can see people who are just sniping at each other, and that tears down public service broadly. I’m not a guy who believes deeply that public service matters and the people who choose to perform it are worthy of respect.
Rather than focus on what (my opponents) might lack, what I would say is distinctive about my candidacy is that experience has never mattered more when it comes to leadership in Congress. But we have no time to waste now. Everybody knows that this is a very urgent moment and a very fragile time in our nation. I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think that. This is not the average congressional district, because Adam has represented that this district has been especially consequential in its representation, especially consequential in our nation. The only reason to run for Congress is to aspire to bring that same level of achievement and consequence to the job.
One of the things that you’ll find will distinguish me in this race is on every issue that matters, I have the distinctive depth of prep and really have the command of those issues, and a record that shows that I can be and have to play real vision in looking around corners to get things done, and then the practical skills to make it happen.
ON THE WAR IN UKRAINE
I believe that we should be providing aid to the Ukrainians. I think it is crucial that Russia not be allowed to take over that nation. Ukraine needs to be a vibrant, independent nation. Ukraine should be in NATO. And I think that the war in Ukraine has exposed Russia’s weakness. Of course, one of the dangers in exposing that weakness is they do have a nuclear capacity that they haven’t used, and they should never use.
I think the approach of heavily sanctioning Russia for their brutal aggression in Ukraine is the right approach. Do I hope that we’re in some exit strategy that can emerge here? Yes, but it’s hard to see what that is at this moment, but I’m always hopeful.
ON HIS RUSSIAN ROOTS
I was born and raised in San Bernardino, and my grandparents lived in L.A. In fact, my grandma Dorothy, who lived around the corner from the house I live in now, which I never in a billion years would have guessed would have happened when I was growing up.
When she was growing up in Russia, was the one child in a huge family who was selected to get educated because they couldn’t afford to educate everybody. So, she rode on the top of a train from her little village to the gymnasium to go to school in Moscow to become a doctor. And she was all of maybe 4’8” in thick socks and high heels. My grandma was a tiny person, but an incredibly intelligent and passionate person.
But around the time of the Revolution, her family said it was too dangerous for them, even if they needed to leave, and she had just fallen in love and said, “I know I’m going to want to stay alive. I’m going to get married.” And the compromise was that she would leave with her family after she got married. But she never saw her husband again because he was never able to escape.
On the boat from Europe to America, my grandma discovered that she was pregnant with my father. So my dad grew up with my grandma in Cleveland, with her remarrying the man I thought of as my grandfather. They were very grateful. My dad grew up in the Depression in Cleveland, but my grandma and all her siblings came to this country.
Parenthetically, one of the things about our city that her life highlights is that the house around the corner from where we live, where my grandparents lived, was a house that they could afford as the two assistant clerks in someone else’s mom and pop grocery store. And now that house is like a two million dollar house. That’s one of the changes in Los Angeles that has not been for the better.
My mom’s mom, my great-grandmother, grew up in a little village on the border that continued to change between Russia and Poland. Her parents told her, “The Cossacks are ravaging our village. It’s dangerous for you. We’re gonna get you a ticket to go to America, and you’re never going to see us again.” At twelve years old, she left the village and never saw her parents again. Interestingly, in the late 1910s or 1920s, there were quotas about Jewish people coming into the country that forbade them from doing so. They were on a boat that wasn’t allowed to dock in America, if not in Havana, for a long time. And my grandma and my grandfather, when she met him, learned to speak Spanish. They got to Los Angeles and opened up Manuel’s Mercantile store in Boyle Heights. So my mom grew up in Boyle Heights, mostly speaking Spanish and Russian and Yiddish and a little bit of English, growing up.
I have roots that tie to Russia on both sides of my family. The fact that Putin has put Russia on this incredibly brutal and dangerous course is one of the biggest mistakes and a huge missed opportunity at this moment. There’s a huge opportunity for our nations to be working together, but there’s no way that can happen right now.
ON COMBATTING GUN VIOLENCE
When I was on the LA City Council, there was a shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center that made international news. It was a horrible racist rampage where the shooter first shot a Filipino American postal worker and then turned his sights on the kids at the center and began shooting. This was not in my Council District, but I made sure my own kids were safe as they were very young in those days and involved in summer programs at a Jewish Community Center. I went out to the site and when I got to the center, I had to show two badges so I could get past the police tape. I got to the steps and encountered a couple whose son, who was five years old at the time (which was the age of my daughter at the time), had been shot and rushed to the hospital. They asked me if I would sit with them in the hospital to see if Ben was going to survive. You can imagine what that was like. I did, and by the way, he made it through that through the surgeries and stuff.
That kind of moment really sears into you the significance of an issue in ways that a news article or some abstract discussion cannot. As a City Council member, I wrote most of the city’s most important laws on gun violence prevention. In the state legislature, I also wrote some of the state’s most important laws, one of which requires the micro-stamping of handguns. This law allows you to tell if the gun used in a crime scene is being replicated around the country now.
Then I became City Attorney, and as City Attorney, one of my jobs was to be the prosecutor for the city. In the state legislature, I learned quickly that both Republicans and Democrats cared about the issue of gun violence. So I thought here was an opportunity to give weight to this voice that had never been expressed before. Prosecutors in the country took a back seat on violence, so I called the D.A. in Manhattan, who was Cyrus Vance Jr. at the time, and said, “why don’t we start the nation’s first-ever Coalition of Prosecutors focused on violence prevention?” He agreed, and so we created what is now called Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. This was maybe eight years ago or something, and it’s been very consequential. In fact, when President Obama was in the White House, the White House asked me to come to speak at the White House to governors and mayors and lawmakers across the United States about effective strategies to combat gun violence.
Again, let’s not talk about abstractions. I’m talking about getting guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, for example, because in that equation, the woman is typically five times more likely to die if there’s a gun in the equation. If fact, our group created a template with a group called The Coalition for Risk-Based Firearms Policy that the White House before I spoke there tweeted a to every state in the country to find ways to get guns away from domestic abusers.
But the theme of my work on gun violence has been: Guns don’t belong in the hands of criminals and kids and people who are a danger to themselves or others. And I have been very fortunate to have received recognition from major groups across the country for my leadership on that issue, and it will continue in Congress. A few days ago, I issued a call to all the major news outlets to every night on your news programs, note the number of deaths due to gun violence that day because I think that the drumbeat of the reality of that can help be a catalyst for change that hasn’t happened before.
After the Parkland tragedy, I had our group, the prosecuting group I described, go to Capitol Hill because I thought there was a moment in the wake of that tragedy for bipartisan action on gun violence. And I led a press conference with senators and over Congress, the Parkland kids, and others. A young woman from Parkland, who was in her Holocaust studies class when the shooting started, saw across the aisle from her, her friend, Nicholas, fell to the ground, and she was very confused. So she fell to the ground too, just to try to keep herself safe. But the bullets kept flying, so she pulled Nicholas’s dead body over her to protect her from the gunfight. And then later, she said she had to apologize to Nicholas’s parents. They said, “No, you did the right thing.”
I do not speak in abstraction. We’ve got to be real with each other about what’s actually going on. And the reason I shared that story with you is you’re going to see me on every issue speak with specificity about not only what motivates me but what’s really happening and concretely what needs to happen to change it for the better.