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SCOTT HARRIS

That Doll of a Deputy in the Mayor's Pocket

July 22, 1993|SCOTT HARRIS

She was walking down the City Hall steps when I saw her, a vision in a gray pin-stripe business suit with a skirt cut well above the knees. The look was corporate but sexy. So petite and yet so leggy.

The blond hair, the little pout, the matching accessories . . . I was sure I'd seen her around.

Finally, it hit me.

"Barbie!" I sidled over, careful not to squash her. "Gosh, it's been years. Last time I saw you, it was that Riordan ad on TV. So how's life at Mattel? Still swell? Riordan didn't send your job down to Baja, did he? Ha ha ha."

She stared at me in that plastic way of hers. Her expression never changed, but she was annoyed. Her lips never moved, yet she spoke.

"Why I accepted this job, I don't know."

She reached into her teensy purse and handed me a business card. It turns out she had joined the Riordan Administration.

"I'm the deputy mayor," she said, "that nobody talks about."

*

Why she confided in me, I don't know. We had some mutual friends back in the '60s. I was hoping she'd forgotten about the time I fixed her up with Joe. (We all knew that Ken wasn't man enough for Barbie. Joe was a combat veteran--a fighting man from head to toe.)

Barbie was always a social climber, so it wasn't surprising to find her in the mayor's inner circle. They met when he was "restructuring" Mattel. Now, she says, the mayor usually keeps her in the inside breast pocket of his suit coat. She whispers advice, not unlike the way Nancy would whisper to Ronnie.

Their relationship, Deputy Mayor Barbie assured me, is "strictly professional." The problem, she says, is that Mayor Riordan doesn't always listen.

"Just look at the LAPD mess. He still talks about adding 3,000 officers in four years! I told Dick, 'Just because you're a politician now, don't make promises you can't keep.' "

I agreed that it didn't look good. Right after Mayor Riordan took office, he traveled to Sacramento and came home saying, gee, the budget crisis is much worse than he had imagined. He wants to shake the federal government for airport revenue--but the feds won't just roll over.

"Yeah," Barbie added, "and when Chief Williams said it was impossible to train so many officers in so short a time, Dick goes and says: 'We'll just hire cops from other cities.' "

What, I asked, is so unreasonable about that?

"I was with him in Van Nuys last week when he chatted up the rank-and-file. You should have heard those guys. Morale stinks, big time. Do you really think that cops from other cities are itching to join the LAPD? Get real.

"Hell, when Bill Violante was in charge of the Police Protective League, he wasn't just fighting Williams, he was helping cops get jobs in other departments!"

Barbie seemed irked that Violante is a deputy mayor, too.

"Dick thinks he'll help rebuild police morale. Well, the appointment has done wonder for Violante's morale, at least."

She shook her blonde head.

"Dick makes deals when he doesn't need to. He's a whiz at high finance, but when it comes to political capital, he's too cautious.

"It's like that time in the campaign when he couldn't get the R-word right. He's speaking in this black church, and he goes 'ri- . . . uhh . . . rebellion.'

"They just laughed at him. He was so patronizing, it was embarrassing," she went on. "He's stammering and I'm going, ' Riot, damn it! Just say the word!' For crissakes, rebellion makes it sound romantic. Like the arsonists are a bunch of freedom fighters!

"Dick's problem is he wants to be loved. He thinks these dumb little compromises will help. Makes promises he can't keep. Reminds me of the sweet nothings I used to hear from your pal Joe, the creep.

"Angelenos don't want to love their mayor," she explained. "They want to respect him."

*

I almost forgot to ask Deputy Mayor Barbie about her LAPD plan.

"Remember Proposition 1, the property tax hike to add 1,000 officers? Dick knew it made sense. But he thought if he backed a tax measure, he wouldn't make the runoff. Just too cautious.

"He should have done another ad: 'More than ever, the LAPD needs our support. Vote yes on Proposition 1, and as mayor I pledge to lower your taxes. And I will do my best to add another 2,000 police.'

"You smile, but more people voted yes on Proposition 1 than yes on Dick Riordan. It just fell short of the two-thirds. Now that was bad for police morale."

Barbie had me in her spell. Such beauty. Such brains. What a doll. What a deputy mayor.

"Know what?" I said. "You've come a long way, Barbie."

Her baby blues flashed in anger.

I swear, some feminists just can't take a joke.

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