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Decision '93 / A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County : Los Angeles Mayor : Separated from the pack by their public service, 11 candidates are given a fighting chance to win a runoff spot. : Richard Riordan : Staking Fortune on Saving L.A.

April 11, 1993|TED ROHRLICH

Richard J. Riordan is spending $3 million of his $100-million fortune to sell himself as a political outsider who is "tough enough to turn L.A. around."

As evidence, the lawyer-businessman cites accomplishments like his 1980s rescue of the insolvent Mattel Inc.

Rivals argue that saving a toy company is a far cry from saving a city. They also scoff at his portrayal of himself as an outsider.

Riordan, 62, knows the power corridors of City Hall and the County Hall of Administration better than most who work there.

As one of the largest political contributors in California, he has made $2 million in gifts and loans to initiative campaigns and candidates of both parties in the last decade.

Mayor Tom Bradley, who has received more than $500,000 in contributions and loans, has rewarded Riordan with appointments to the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Coliseum Commission.

Riordan says he met County Supervisor Deane Dana and Dana's former colleague Pete Schabarum on the Coliseum Commission. They also received hefty contributions from Riordan and launched him on a series of missions to broker deals for the county on such subjects as how much taxpayers should pay for railroad rights of way. His law firm has billed the county about $3 million for such work.

The heart of his save-L.A. plan is to rent the airport to private industry and use the money to hire more police. If people feel safer, he says, businesses and the frightened middle class will be more likely to stay and create jobs for the poor.

Riordan was the youngest of eight children in a privileged Irish-American family in New York. His father was president of a department store.

Riordan's second marriage is in the fourth year of a separation. He lives alone in a $6-million Brentwood mansion with three Yorkshire terriers and 40,000 books.

A Princeton philosophy graduate and a University of Michigan graduate in law, he moved to Los Angeles in 1956 to work for a downtown law firm. He invested an $80,000 inheritance wisely and eventually began financing entrepreneurs.

Today he is one of the city's most influential people, a member of elite clubs and a leading Catholic churchman. He sponsored ballot initiatives to update the 911 system and impose term limits on elected officials. He was a force behind the effort that dumped California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.

He gives more than $2 million a year to charity, mostly to help children learn to read and write with the aid of computers.

He is a land developer and investment banker. He has compiled a record of backing entrepreneurs who create jobs, though he has also helped finance corporate takeovers that cost them.

But critics give him low marks as a consensus-builder.

Mary Nichols, a former colleague on the city's Recreation and Parks Commission, says he shared an attitude common among successful businessmen: "The bureaucrats are all idiots, have never had to meet a payroll; therefore what can they know about policy?"

Criticism that he straddles political issues is recurrent. He has called his opponents in the mayor's race fundamentally wrong for accepting public matching campaign funds. But he was the largest individual contributor to state and local drives to establish such funds.

He also says he is in favor of a woman's right to choose abortion, but records show contributions to anti-abortion groups.

Richard Riordan Born: May 1, 1930. Residence: Brentwood. Education: Attended Santa Clara University. Graduated from Princeton University. Law degree from University of Michigan. Career Highlights: As an investor, helped resturture an insolvant Mattel Inc. Has served as president of the city Recreation and Parks Commission and the Coliseum Commission and is senior partner in a downtown firm. Interests: Bicycling, reading, chess, bridge, dogs. Family: Separated from second wife. Three children.

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