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Aide Details Riordan's Role in Plant Closure : Campaign: In response to a rival's charge, the businessman's camp acknowledges that he was involved in cost-cutting move that closed Mattel's last local factory.

April 05, 1993|FRANK CLIFFORD and RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

At the heart of businessman Richard Riordan's campaign for mayor of Los Angeles is the contention that his experience reviving ailing companies makes him the candidate best qualified to create jobs and turn the city's economy around.

But Sunday, the Riordan campaign acknowledged that he was involved in a retooling of Mattel Inc. that led to the shutdown of its last Los Angeles-based production facility, layoffs of 250 workers and transfer of its manufacturing operation to Mexico.

In TV ads that feature Mattel's famous Barbie doll and at candidate forums, Riordan has repeatedly touted the revival of Mattel that occurred while he served on the company's board.

"It created jobs for everybody in L.A.," he said during a KCET forum televised Friday and again Sunday.

When a rival candidate, Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), confronted Riordan during the KCET debate with the assertion that "Mattel was saved but the jobs went to Mexico," Riordan denied having anything to do with the job losses.

"You're absolutely wrong," Riordan told Katz. "That was way before I got involved with Mattel," he said of the plant closing.

Sunday, however, Bill Wardlaw, Riordan's campaign chairman, conceded that Riordan was involved in a cost-cutting move that caused Mattel's last local factory, a Paramount plant employing 250 people, to shut down in 1987. Wardlaw maintained that the move was part of a successful effort to save the company, including more than 1,000 "high-paying jobs" at Mattel's Hawthorne-based headquarters.

"But for the restructuring of Mattel, there would not be 1,300 to 1,500 jobs that currently exist in L.A. today," Wardlaw said.

Referring to the Paramount jobs, he said that "the decision was made to move those jobs to make the company viable," adding: "Mattel is the second-largest toy company in the U.S. and is actively expanding jobs" as a result of the restructuring.

Moreover, Wardlaw said, closing the Paramount plant is an example of the kind of painful medicine that the city's leaders must be willing to prescribe to revive the economy.

"Those are the kind of tough decisions that now need to be made by our politicians," he said.

According to news stories at the time, the cost-cutting efforts were intended to save the troubled toy company $26 million over two years. Shutting down the Paramount factory followed the closure of two other U.S.-based Mattel plants, in East Los Angeles and New Jersey.

As a venture capitalist who specializes in investing in troubled firms and turning them around, Riordan has made a fortune estimated at about $100 million.

In other campaign developments, several of the candidates took a break from attacks on each other to speak Sunday at a church service in South-Central Los Angeles attended by Jesse Jackson and designed to promote peace as verdicts loom in two potentially volatile trials.

City Councilman Michael Woo drew the loudest applause from the more than 500 worshipers at Greater Bethany Community Church.

"Brothers and sisters, you are going to hear a lot of back and forth between the different candidates running for mayor," Woo said. "There are disagreements between us, but we are united in saying that we must do everything we can to fight violence.

"We need to do all we can to maintain the best that (outgoing Mayor) Tom Bradley has stood for," Woo added.

Riordan said: "We cannot have a true and lasting peace until a mother no longer has to tell her child to duck behind parked cars when they hear shooting. . . . We must support our great chief of police, Willie Williams."

Stan Sanders received loud applause when he described himself "as a resident of this community."

Katz told the congregation: "In these times . . . no matter what level our opponents may sink, we cannot sink to their level. We have to rise above their level and be better than they are so our city will be better in the future."

But even as Katz was appealing for harmony, his campaign was broadening its attack on other candidates with a new TV ad focusing on jobs. In the commercial, Katz says: "City Hall didn't lift a finger while thousands in Los Angeles lost their jobs."

Elsewhere, City Councilman Joel Wachs continued to test his controversial trial balloon--a proposal to place the National Guard on the streets of Los Angeles several days before verdicts are read in the federal case of four police officers accused of violating Rodney G. King's civil rights.

On Friday, after Wachs was accused by other council members and candidates of using inflammatory campaign tactics, he withdrew his request for a council motion to mobilize the Guard.

Among the candidates critical of Wachs' plan have been Riordan, Katz and Woo, all of whom denounced it as provocative.

But as Wachs took his mayoral campaign to two neighborhoods Sunday, he insisted that his proposal was very much alive.

"I've decided to go another route," he said, refusing to explain further.

Times staff writer John Schwada contributed to this story.

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