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Riordan Has L.A. Moving: He Deserves a New Term

Mayor's business prowess is crucial in era of economic change

March 30, 1997

On April 8, the citizens of Los Angeles will choose the next mayor of our city, the nation's second-largest. It's a contest between the incumbent, Richard Riordan, and state Sen. Tom Hayden. One of these two men will lead Angelenos into the 21st century, and The Times endorses Mayor Riordan as the best choice.

The reasons are many. For starters, the mayor has the most persuasive economic plan.

Many of the high-tech business and industrial centers on the West Coast suffer from a shortage of well-educated, home-grown workers. That's especially the case with high-wage technological firms. The solution lies in getting business, government and higher education to work collectively. In the four-county, 23-city Silicon Valley region, for example, this mix of leadership, money and training has paid off in jobs and related services spun off by the explosive high-tech industry. The key elements feed off each other. The result: ready funding, technology transfers and direct business and university support of local schools and colleges to keep the research and workers coming.

It's Riordan who has the better grasp on this interconnectedness. His focus now, and it's a good one, is on attracting multimedia firms and their high-wage jobs to Los Angeles and on encouraging them to help produce workers with the skills to keep the engine going.

Riordan's administration has already helped slash through the bureaucratic red tape that had forced some multimedia enterprises to pack their bags for other states and Canada.

The mayor, a Republican, has a plan for reasonable tax breaks and other initiatives to keep businesses here and invite more to come. Hayden is not justified in charging that Riordan has sold out the city, though the challenger makes some legitimate points and serves Los Angeles by drawing attention to the high delinquency rates on city business taxes, for instance, a problem the next mayor must address.

Economically, California has come back, and it now needs the right leaders to ride the wave, to build on what's swelling beneath our feet. In San Diego the catalysts are the wireless communications industry and the University of California at San Diego.

In Los Angeles, where problems are amplified by sheer size, the challenges are daunting. The area of crime control and public safety offers an example of what can be accomplished when the mayor and the City Council work together, however grudgingly. The expansion of the Los Angeles Police Department stands as one of the city's biggest success stories.

The Hayden campaign has a great line: "Tough on crime, tougher on the causes of crime," but it's vague on the details of how a Hayden administration would pay for such an accomplishment and other grand plans.

Riordan is stronger in this regard. His plan for empowering individual police stations to establish high-activity crime-fighting standards, and holding those stations accountable, is basically sound. There's one caveat: This city does not need police officers stopping citizens without due cause, and certainly not to meet some monthly goal for field interviews.

Issues like this one are hard and real among the disillusioned elements of our city. A clear-eyed assessment of Riordan's term has to acknowledge an unfortunate fact: Not all segments of Los Angeles are happy with this administration. In surveys by the Los Angeles Times Poll, African Americans indicated strong distrust of Riordan (the group was the only one in the surveys to express that sentiment), and Riordan's relationship with many blacks continues to be an icy one. The mayor should work on relieving that tension. He has attributed the bad feelings to a few recalcitrant African American leaders, but that fails to recognize that his own aloofness has contributed to the problem. One test of the mayor as a leader will be his ability to make real progress with all segments of his constituency.

Riordan is an oddity in big city politics, more doer than talker, which leaves his achievements under wraps while another mayor would be boasting from the bully pulpit.

Hayden understands this, and can certainly handle the microphone. It's one of the reasons he feels he's the man for the job. Riordan, on the other hand, has impressed upon this out-sized and often loud city that he prefers to work behind the scenes. This may be admirable, but it's very unmayoral. The L.A. mayor's office can be a platform to lead and inspire, cajole or shame, embrace or alienate. Riordan has largely declined to use it in this way, and his influence, here and nationally, suffers as a consequence. If he wins, this must change, and the reason is plain. L.A. needs a voice to match its size and a mayor who will throw his weight around.

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