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Two Strong Candidates for Mayor--but the Choice Is Woo : Riordan proposes important economic goals but Woo has the skills needed to make things happen in an often-divided community

June 04, 1993

At a crossroads in its history, at a time when Los Angeles absolutely must demand the possibility of greatness from its leaders, a mayoral campaign that has been anything but great has blanketed this city in a smog of words. The candidates, especially in their ads, have set a negative tone that has resulted in one of the more mean-spirited campaigns in recent memory.

Negative campaigning is hardly new in politics and it's silly to pretend otherwise. But somehow campaigning as usual is not what this great city--riot-torn and recession-battered--wants, needs and deserves.

The tenor of this 1993 mayoral campaign is unfortunate because the two candidates are doing a disservice to themselves. They are better than their campaigns. Businessman Richard Riordan has rightly emphasized the needs of the city in the economic arena, such as job creation and business competitiveness; City Councilman Michael Woo has emphasized that point--as well as the need for political reform and multicultural harmony. Both agree on the necessity to do more about crime, though they disagree on how to fund more police, and about improving public schools, though no mayor has much power in that area.

But the sheer negativity of the campaign has led many potential voters to think negatively of the candidates. It's not surprising that a Times poll showed that many people who say they have made up their minds about this race are citing mainly negative reasons: They're voting against Riordan, or against Woo, not for anyone.

Indeed, voters should be having some difficulty deciding on who should be the next mayor--but not because these two are unworthy. All the negativity notwithstanding, these are plausible and accomplished candidates. Unlike this mayoral campaign, therefore, this endorsement editorial will not seek to tear down one candidate in order to make the case for the other. On the contrary, we propose to emphasize the strengths of both, as a way of explaining the reasons behind our choice.

THE CANDIDATES: Consider this runoff field. One is a shrewd venture-capitalist, lawyer, self-made millionaire and philanthropist. The other is a well-educated, intelligent city councilman with a career ability to relate to people. One brings to this race the wisdom of many years in the private sector; the other brings to it a youthful sense of commitment to public service. Many cities would be fortunate to have one such candidate of this caliber. L.A. has two. But, by their campaigns, the voter is hard-pressed to appreciate this.

THE DICK RIORDAN VISION: The Princeton-educated Riordan, 63, has a first-class financial mind and a deserved sense of himself as a problem-solver. Despite opponents' propaganda that seeks to paint him as some right-wing nut, this is a sensible man who, not unlike Ross Perot, actually believes that the way to fix the car may in fact be not a whole lot more complicated than lifting up the hood and going to it.

Riordan also brings to his vision of the L.A. mayoralty a deeply held sense that government-only solutions to problems probably cannot get off the ground these days. What's needed, he insists, is more public-private partnerships--more LEARNs, more unconventional, transsector solutions. And in this regard Riordan is entirely right.

Riordan also brings experience from the private sector. He knows what it takes to meet a payroll, hammer out a business plan, entice investors, satisfy consumers. He also knows that government can be part of business's problem: that it can be a red-tape machine right out of a Franz Kafka novel, a form-filled nightmare that dispirits entrepreneurs. As mayor, one senses, he would want to take an unkind blowtorch to the problem. We do like that.

THE MIKE WOO STYLE: The Berkeley-educated Woo, 41, arrives on center stage not from the business world but from the highly politicized world of the City Council. And yet, even after eight years in that caldron of Balkanization, Woo emerged an experienced operator--learning to balance pragmatism and ideology. He has his detractors--some reacting negatively to his youthfulness, some disagreeing with him on issues, some with political jealousy due to their own conflicting ambitions. But he has also won many admirers.

Their admiration derives from an appreciation of his style. He is a grand conciliator when that's required: Woo is, to use John F. Kennedy's famous phrase in "Profiles in Courage," willing to "rise above principle" when that's the ticket to effectiveness. That's a skill to be admired, not scorned, in politics. And it's a skill that any modern big-city mayor requires.

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