Mayor Richard Riordan might be cantankerous. Once I was protecting his administration, he would typically name me as quickly as he’d rushed by means of his morning paper, and he would howl in anger. No individual has ever yelled at me extra usually or furiously than Riordan did from 1993 to 2001 — typically about tales I had nothing to do with. I’d see him a couple of hours later at a press occasion or someplace round city, and he would greet me cheerfully, as if nothing had occurred.
But when Riordan might be difficult, he additionally was efficient. He achieved massive issues in a metropolis that badly wanted assist. He got here to workplace on the heels of the 1992 riots, which had shaken L.A.’s confidence. The Los Angeles Police Division was a shambles, rocked first by its violent remedy of Rodney King after which by its torpid, cowardly response to the riots. The economic system was within the tank. A 12 months after Riordan took workplace, the Northridge earthquake bounced the rubble.
By the point Riordan left workplace, town was vastly improved, not excellent, to make sure, however on its ft. Riordan partnered with the White Home — he and President Clinton developed a keenness for one another — to rebuild town after the earthquake. In reality, although he by no means stated so publicly, Riordan believed the earthquake was good for L.A. It centered sources on restoration and helped it rebound from the recession of the early Nineteen Nineties.
And on security, the difficulty that introduced him to workplace, Riordan’s file was highly effective. He added police, and crime plunged. The 12 months earlier than Riordan took workplace, 1,092 folks had been murdered in Los Angeles. In his remaining 12 months as mayor, 654 Angelenos died by murder. Crime total was equally down. That’s plenty of saved lives and safer streets.
Riordan’s remaining present to town was his position in launching the trouble that rewrote town constitution. Sometimes for the mayor, that began from frustration.
A businessman at coronary heart, Riordan couldn’t imagine that he wasn’t allowed extra authority over metropolis departments, and he was significantly irritated that he couldn’t direct town legal professional’s workplace. He wished to rent and fireplace division heads, and he wished to have the ability to decide his personal legal professionals, however he set in movement occasions that he couldn’t completely management. One constitution fee grew to become two, town council obtained its fingers within the pie. It didn’t prove precisely how he’d hoped — Los Angeles mayors nonetheless don’t management town legal professional — however the brand new constitution did streamline Metropolis Corridor and create new neighborhood illustration. It will not have occurred with out him.
I obtained many glimpses of Riordan’s capability — he usually clocked me at chess — however one stands out. It was through the tedious efforts to convey a soccer staff again to Los Angeles. Two teams of would-be house owners had been vying for place, whereas the NFL performed its personal video games. I requested Riordan if he could be prepared, off the file, to put out the state of the negotiations. Considerably to my shock, he agreed.
We sat in his workplace late one afternoon. He reclined on his sofa, nibbling snacks — peanut butter, if reminiscence serves — and laid out the entire thing: who was speaking to whom, who was telling the reality, who was mendacity, what would occur subsequent. He did it nearly in a trance. All the pieces he predicted got here true. It was an instance of what certainly one of his shrewdest advisors described as his means to “see round corners.”
And but, he might miss what was proper in entrance of him. He was the man who carried a hamburger to a starvation strike (gardeners had been protesting a proposed metropolis ban on gas-powered leaf blowers; I imply, actually — solely in L.A.). He took off for France on a motorcycle journey throughout a transit strike. (I reached him on that journey, and he was livid. He hated “gotcha” questions and he knew one was coming.) But he was one thing of a Teflon mayor. His gaffes might need broken one other politician; coming from Riordan, they appeared extra charming than malicious, extra Mr. Magoo than Scrooge.
Yet one more story: Nicely into his second time period, Riordan was at a celebration in Pasadena, a going-away occasion for a senior member of his workers. I used to be there, too, and I had introduced my son, who was then about 2 years previous. My boy and I ducked out of the get together for a couple of minutes and went exterior.
We came across Riordan, all by himself, on a patio overlooking a pool and grounds. Riordan favored my son, who was born simply earlier than Riordan’s reelection in 1997, and we chatted for some time about being dads. Searching over a darkened backyard, Riordan mirrored on the deaths of his son and certainly one of his daughters. He was tender and weak, so completely different from both the Mr. Magoo or the deal maker that the general public most frequently noticed. I used to be reminded of how his life — so outwardly profitable — additionally was riddled with unhappiness, and the way he overcame it.
He was a tough man, and we didn’t all the time get alongside. However he had a beneficiant coronary heart. He cared about Los Angeles deeply, and he devoted himself to its enchancment. He left it higher than he discovered it.
Jim Newton lined Los Angeles Metropolis Corridor as a reporter, columnist, bureau chief and editorial web page editor for The Occasions from 1992 to 2014. He now edits Blueprint journal at UCLA and is an everyday contributor to CalMatters.