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No Schools Job for Riordan

Politics: The former mayor and L.A. Unified chief Romer agree that working for the district would conflict with Riordan's potential run for governor.

July 19, 2001|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Former Mayor Richard Riordan for months talked up his plans to join the Los Angeles Unified School District after he left office. Insiders speculated that he secretly wanted to dethrone Supt. Roy Romer.

Now those plans are dead, as Riordan eyes a bigger prize--the governor's job.

"Because of this possibility of running for governor, Romer and I decided that it wasn't in the best interest of the school district for me to work inside," Riordan said in an interview Wednesday. "That could really hurt them with Sacramento."

Riordan and Romer met periodically in recent months to talk about a possible job. Although they never hammered out specifics, they decided that Riordan would be involved with computers and technology, an area of interest for him.

The two met a few weeks ago to discuss the matter further--and both agreed that it was a bad idea for Riordan to proceed with the plan. Working at the district would mean mixing a nonpartisan job with the highly partisan arena of gubernatorial politics, something both wanted to avoid.

"I said to him, 'As long as you're a candidate, you ought not to be representing the district. It's not a compatible role,' " Romer recalled. "He agreed with that. There's no arrangement to work for the district while he's in an active political posture."

Some of those close to Riordan said his dual role of employee and candidate could have created problems for the school district, which is dependent on Sacramento and the administration of Gov. Gray Davis for funding, approval of construction plans and other important matters.

Others questioned whether Riordan, a whimsical and headstrong leader, would have been comfortable taking orders from anyone after having served as Los Angeles' chief executive for eight years.

"I can't imagine that he would have much of an appetite for going into anyone's office and saying, 'Yes, sir,' " said Ted Mitchell, president of Occidental College and Riordan's senior education advisor.

Riordan has been encouraged to run for governor by Republican members of Congress, White House strategists and even President Bush himself.

Still, the former mayor said he hasn't made up his mind. If he runs, he would have to defeat two Republicans in the March primary before taking on Davis.

Leaders of both parties are speculating wildly about his decision. Rumors abound.

But Bill Ouchi, a UCLA management professor who once served as Riordan's chief of staff, said the former mayor's future cannot be predicted. "He is a man of his own mind," Ouchi said.

Riordan said that seeking California's top job would finally put to rest rumors within the Los Angeles Unified School District that he wants to oust Romer.

"I do not want his job and I've never wanted his job," Riordan said.

Riordan became an imposing force in school district politics during his second mayoral term, successfully backing four candidates for the Board of Education.

In many ways, he redefined the role of mayor regarding education, lobbying Washington for funds and tapping high-powered friends to find sites for new schools.

Riordan said he will continue to be involved in school district affairs through his 20-year-old foundation, which supplies campuses with computers and grants aimed at boosting literacy skills.

Also, he plans to convene a task force seeking to train teachers in the use of technology in class lessons.

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