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GOP CONVENTION '96

L.A, N.Y. Mayors Decide to Stand Pat, Stay Put

August 12, 1996|JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Republicans exulted three years ago when they took over the mayor's suites in New York and Los Angeles, the nation's two largest cities and seemingly unassailable bastions of the Democratic Party.

But as the GOP gathers here this week, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani are noticeably absent--symbolizing their own nonpartisan approaches to governing and, perhaps, their discomfort at the prospect of being pressed into close contact with their party's truest believers.

Some GOP strategists regretted the loss of two potentially potent symbols at the Republican National Convention, even as they agreed that the mayors are wise to steer away from partisan politics as both prepare to face reelection next year.

"It's a disappointment, naturally," said Allan Hoffenblum, a California-based consultant. "We finally get the mayor's office in the two largest cities in America; that is something the party would want to be showcased."

Giuliani's office said Republican officials have signaled that he is not welcome in San Diego. "He is not invited. They have basically said, 'You can't come to our party,' " said Colleen Roche, the mayor's press secretary. "They have made that very clear."

That cold shoulder may not be a surprise--Giuliani failed to endorse Bob Dole in New York's March primary election, instead issuing a lukewarm statement that he would vote for the GOP's presumptive nominee.

Tim Fitzpatrick, spokesman for the Republican National Committee, denied that any attempt was made to make Giuliani feel unwelcome. Decisions on inviting mayors are left to individual state delegations, not the national party, he said. "We have no 'snub list,' " he said.

The Republicans, however, have been displeased with Giuliani's maverick ways before. When he endorsed Democratic incumbent Mario M. Cuomo over GOP challenger George Pataki in the 1994 New York gubernatorial race--which Pataki won--national party officials made no secret that Giuliani's disloyalty ended New York City's chances of hosting the 1996 GOP convention.

While Riordan might be more welcome in San Diego, the Los Angeles mayor believes that staying out of the partisan fray will pay off better for his city in the long run.

"It really works to play both sides of the [partisan] aisle," said one Riordan advisor, who asked not to be named. "He is not going to change that."

Though it is disconcerting to some Republicans, the absence of the two mayors cannot be called a surprise. Both have shown a willingness to traverse party lines to find advantage for themselves and their cities.

Riordan and Giuliani stood behind President Clinton's anti-crime legislation and his gun-control proposals. Giuliani broke Republican orthodoxy by bashing policies directed at immigrants, legal and illegal. Riordan did the same when he recently called the California ballot initiative to curtail affirmative action too divisive.

And, in 1994, Riordan backed Democrat Dianne Feinstein in the contest for a U.S. Senate seat.

Even though Riordan also backed Republican Gov. Pete Wilson in his successful reelection bid that same year, his actions left some GOP faithful greeting Riordan with pins reading "RINO," for "Republican in Name Only."

Giuliani has been so divorced from the Republican fold that Clinton's handlers have conceded they have hopes for an endorsement from the Republican mayor.

Riordan's staff said his balancing act has helped the city in Sacramento and Washington. The city worked closely with Clinton's staff in securing recovery funds after the 1994 earthquake and, more recently, received a helpful push from House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in securing a $400-million federal loan for the Alameda Corridor rail project that will speed transportation between the port and downtown Los Angeles.

"Given all the things that are going on in Los Angeles, the mayor felt his time was better spent here," concluded Bill Wardlaw, the mayor's advisor and chairman of Clinton's campaign in California.

Giuliani's staff said he will follow his standard routine this week, including producing his radio show and tending to the business of New York.

Riordan will begin the week touring a business improvement district in Hollywood and continue negotiations to bring an arena for the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings to the downtown area.

"The mayor has never been to a political convention," said one Riordan staffer, insisting that the city's leader won't feel left out this week. "These events are as extreme and partisan as they can be. They are for the real die-hards, and he just doesn't fit into that."

Times staff writer Tony Perry contributed to this story.

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