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Mayor Quickly Picks a New Chief of Staff

City Hall: Former Deputy Mayor Kelly Martin's appointment gets mostly positive reaction. Riordan also promotes press aide.

October 07, 1998|JIM NEWTON and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Moving quickly to calm his unsettled administration, Mayor Richard Riordan on Tuesday named Deputy Mayor Kelly Martin as his chief of staff, filling a vacancy created last week when he fired her predecessor.

The appointment was expected by some Riordan aides, though the speed of the announcement took officials inside and outside the administration by surprise.

In addition to Martin's promotion, Press Secretary Noelia Rodriguez received an upgrade in position, assuming the title of deputy mayor. That post was last held by Steve Sugerman, who left the administration about the time of Riordan's reelection last year.

"I am fortunate to have such a diverse, talented group of professionals on my senior staff," Riordan said in a statement.

In contrast to the hoopla four months ago when Riordan trumpeted the appointment of his previous chief of staff, Lesa Slaughter, Tuesday's announcements were low key, made by news release.

Still, reaction to the promotions was mostly positive. Both Rodriguez and Martin are known at City Hall. And though some officials have reservations about Martin--whose abrupt style has alienated some senior city officials and members of the Riordan team--most welcomed a change from the past few months, in which the administration has seemed adrift.

Several City Council aides Tuesday described Martin as smart and ambitious but not likely to be a team player. Complicating the reaction to her appointment was residual resentment over Slaughter's sudden ouster. Slaughter was generally well liked by council members, and Riordan's action antagonized some of them.

"I don't think you invite someone to be your chief of staff and then fire them and hold them up to public humiliation," said Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who called the firing "appalling." "She deserves better than that. No one deserves that."

Sources close to the mayor objected to Goldberg's characterization, saying that Riordan had tried to negotiate a soft landing for Slaughter but that news of her departure leaked out before a deal could be finalized. Slaughter has not commented publicly since her ouster.

Goldberg said she is also concerned about turnover; Martin becomes Riordan's fifth chief of staff in six years.

"You wonder about it in any office," Goldberg said. "You wonder if there is leadership, if people are getting things done."

In an interview Tuesday, Martin said her first mission would be to "refocus us on our strategic priorities," including public safety and charter reform.

She did not criticize her predecessor directly, but said the past few months had reconfirmed a principle she shares with Riordan: the need to empower subordinates and then let them run their own operations. She said she would not micro-manage her top deputies.

Martin won high praise from the mayor.

"I have known Kelly for over a decade and have watched her perform both in the public and private sectors," Riordan said in his statement, adding that he valued her "talent, skills and dedication."

Both Martin and Rodriguez have long served Riordan in varying capacities.

Of Rodriguez, he said: "She offers sound judgment in times of crisis and trusted counsel in times of decision-making. In short, she tells it like it is."

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