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Minimum Wage Is Not Enough, Riordan Says

Campaign: 'How can somebody live on $6.75 an hour?' he asks. Meanwhile, Jones assails his opponent's record.

January 19, 2002|MICHAEL FINNEGAN and MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PALM DESERT — Gubernatorial candidate Richard Riordan said Friday that California's minimum wage of $6.75 an hour is too low for a person to make ends meet, but declined to say whether he would support an increase.

"How can somebody live on $6.75 an hour?" Riordan asked during a visit to a citrus-packing plant in Riverside.

"You can't.... In fact, you can't live on $10 an hour."

As Riordan was stumping in Riverside County, Bill Jones, a rival in the March 5 GOP primary, was assailing his record as mayor of Los Angeles in a speech to Sacramento business leaders. The third major GOP candidate, Bill Simon Jr., held a closed-door fund-raiser Friday with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in Beverly Hills.

Riordan's remarks on the minimum wage came in response to concerns raised by managers of the Blue Banner citrus plant, where he watched assembly line workers sort oranges on a conveyor belt.

As thousands of oranges rolled by on the rumbling machinery, Blue Banner Vice President Vince Mazzetti told Riordan that increases in the state's minimum wage since Gov. Gray Davis took office in 1999 have forced the company to lay off 95 people.

"We have to look out for the company," Mazzetti said. "If the company goes under, everybody's out of a job, not only those 95."

California's hourly minimum wage, one of the nation's highest, has risen $1 since Davis took office. The state Industrial Welfare Commission approved the two 50-cent increases in October 2000. Davis, a Democrat seeking reelection in November, has welcomed the move.

Riordan, though, was careful to avoid taking sides in an issue that pits business against labor--two powerful constituencies in the governor's race.

"You have to care about the have-nots," said Riordan, a multimillionaire philanthropist. "I do. Very deeply. But you have to--before you take action that seems obvious--really think it through and think, 'Is this in the benefit of the have-nots?' And the answer is not that clear."

Riordan said he pays more than the minimum wage to dishwashers at the Original Pantry, his restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.

"It's the toughest job there," he said.

But Riordan would not say whether he approved of the state's latest minimum-wage increases--nor whether another was warranted.

"You've just got to look at the whole equation at each moment in time and do the best you can to predict the effect on the future," he said.

"Maybe we're better off with increases, maybe we're not better off."

Riordan's visit to Riverside, where he held two fund-raisers on Thursday night, was the latest stop on his statewide bus tour. From there, he rode to Palm Desert, where he spoke to a Republican group at a Mexican restaurant. In the parking lot, Riordan made an appeal to elderly voters during a TV interview in front of his bus.

"What I want to do is take people who have had major jobs as lawyers and doctors and businesspeople, and use that expertise to help turn California around," said Riordan, who is 71.

"I want to set up more senior centers around the state to have more interesting things to do. You don't give up life when you become a so-called senior. There are so many trips you can take, so many games you can play, and so many songs you can sing."

In Sacramento, Riordan was the target of criticism by Jones, the California secretary of state, at a business group's luncheon. Taking issue with the way Riordan portrays himself in his TV ads, Jones said, "His record in L.A. was anything but one of a vigilant leader taking charge and solving problems.

"When the [Metropolitan Transit Authority] went on strike [in the fall of 2000], Dick decided it would be a good time to vacation in France, leaving the details to others," Jones said. "When the worst police scandal in L.A. history was engulfing the city, Dick was nowhere to be found.

"What he has demonstrated to date is a leadership deficit that is close to rivaling Gov. Davis," Jones said, citing Riordan's failure to produce detailed plans on the state budget, agriculture and water policy.

Kevin Spillane, political director of Riordan's campaign, dismissed Jones' comments as "overheated rhetoric from an underheated candidate."

"Bill Jones is concerned about falling into third place, and his shots are getting more desperate and cheaper by the time," Spillane said.

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