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CITY HALL WATCH : Agenda Control

March 09, 1994

Richard Riordan has a lot of people paying attention as the still relatively new mayor goes about the tricky business of redefining city government. Monday, in his first State of the City address, the mayor, though no Demosthenes as an orator, had a packed City Council chamber hanging on every sentence because, among other things, this guy is a new kind of city executive. He questions more than he accepts--a huge plus in a city where some (though far from all) parts of government have fallen asleep in the relative security that no new idea is likely to disturb them.

Of course Riordan wants to only overhaul city government. That disappoints those who would prefer far more radical surgery. But for all his unpredictability, this former businessman is solid and sensible. He knows that he must move carefully, though constantly, in the direction of privatizing--through contracts and leases--those parts of government that can be; consolidating city agencies or functions that overlap, and squeezing down costs without squeezing services.

His speech Monday was not as detailed as some council members wanted, but it was a welcome effort to set a general direction for city government. About 10 days ago a Riordan commission laid out some interesting, indeed provocative, proposals for redirection. The City Council will have every opportunity to debate them once the mayor presents them in the form of specific proposals. Coming up with specifics is Riordan's next challenge, and it is a big one. If he does that, he will continue to control the agenda.

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