Delgadillo Beats Feuer in City Attorney Race

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Coming from behind, Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo defeated Councilman Mike Feuer in their battle for the Los Angeles city attorney's post Tuesday.

Feuer, who had been ahead in the polls, took an initial lead, but Delgadillo pulled even, then slightly ahead, and remained in front with most of the ballots counted.

The councilman called Delgadillo to concede the race shortly before 1 a.m. today.

"He's got an important job to do, and it's a responsibility he will shoulder well," Feuer said.

"I can breathe now," Delgadillo said after the call. He said he expected to be up early today for interviews and planning for his new job.

Delgadillo had sweated out the ballot count during a party at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel downtown as the band played the theme from the movie "Rocky."

"Maybe when 99% of the votes are counted I'll be able to breathe again," Delgadillo had said. Among those awaiting returns with Delgadillo were his boss, Mayor Richard Riordan, and businessman and former Laker basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

Feuer watched the election returns with supporters and his family at a home in Hancock Park.

The election for the city's second-highest office, being vacated by James K. Hahn after 16 years to run for mayor, was costly and contentious. Between them, Delgadillo and Feuer spent at least $4.7 million on the four-way April election and Tuesday's runoff.

Although Feuer, 43, started raising money for the campaign two years ago, he refused to accept donations from City Hall lobbyists and political action committees. Delgadillo, 40, who heads economic development efforts for Riordan, one of his key supporters, soon overtook Feuer in fund-raising. Much of the city's business establishment contributed to Delgadillo's campaign, while Feuer drew donations from much of the city's legal community.

But the biggest difference in the two campaigns' resources came in the form of so-called independent expenditures--groups of individuals who mount their own efforts to support or oppose a candidate or cause.

The multimillionaire Riordan spent more than $265,000 during the runoff to help Delgadillo. According to documents on file with the city Ethics Commission, the money went for political mailings, a telephone bank and an ad on Spanish-language television stations.

In addition, the outdoor advertising industry, which has clashed with Feuer over his efforts to more tightly regulate signs, spent about $425,000 on scores of billboards promoting Delgadillo's candidacy, including some $310,000 during the runoff campaign.

Both Feuer and Delgadillo are Democrats, but their backgrounds, bases of support and visions for the nonpartisan city attorney's office contrasted sharply.

During the campaign, Feuer implied that Delgadillo was in the pocket of business interests, especially the billboard industry. Delgadillo blamed Feuer for failing, along with the rest of the City Council, to implement long-recommended police reforms.

Feuer said during the campaign that he wanted to continue to work on causes he espoused during his six years representing the San Fernando Valley/Westside's 5th Council District: gun control, environmental protection and political corruption laws. He also emphasized the need to combat elder abuse and slum housing.

The California Democratic Party, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and many of the region's Democratic elected officials backed Feuer, who earned both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard and ran a prominent legal aid program, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, before his 1995 election to the City Council.

Delgadillo, who grew up on the city's Eastside, earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard and a law degree from Columbia, then joined the prominent downtown law firm O'Melveny & Myers. There he met former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, one of his most prominent backers. Delgadillo worked for Rebuild L.A. in the wake of the 1992 riots and joined the Riordan business team in 1994.

Delgadillo made school reforms his campaign centerpiece, brushing off criticism that the city attorney's office could do little to affect the independently operated Los Angeles Unified School District.

He promised to make schools safer, slash red tape to build new campuses quickly and seek money to expand after-school programs. He also pledged to help improve neighborhoods and reduce the city's liability.

The city attorney oversees a staff of about 1,000, including more than 400 lawyers.

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