Riordan: 'Goofy' or a Mr. Fixit?
He owns 40,000 books, quotes Martin Buber and Samuel Goldwyn, and hangs out regularly with comedians such as Jonathan Winters and Tim Conway.Skip to next paragraph
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He is an avid bicyclist, is happiest when surrounded by kids, and eats peanut-butter sandwiches with lettuce and tomato, followed by a pint of chocolate ice cream - out of the container.
He has a chapel and a trampoline in his backyard.
His name is Richard Riordan and he will, by all accounts, be the leading Republican contender for governor in the special election recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Mr. Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, is expected to formally announce his candidacy now that Arnold Schwarzenegger seems unlikely to run. (The actor is to announce his decision Wednesday night when he appears on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.)
Fans of Riordan say he is so passionate about politics that he becomes nearly giddy over phrases such as "public duty." But 73-year-old Riordan will have to convince voters that he still has the drive, vision, and tough hide to tackle one of the toughest public offices in the land.
California is, after all, notorious for taxing even the most resilient leaders - former governors Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, and Pete Wilson all suffered dramatic popularity drops while in office. Another question is whether Riordan can win in a state that distrusts the city of Los Angeles in many ways.
If Riordan enters the race, he won't have much time to campaign. The election is scheduled for October 7, though Governor Davis was expected to ask the California Supreme Court to delay the vote to March 2004.
It was a decade ago that Riordan ran for Los Angeles mayor with no political experience with the slogan, "tough enough to turn L.A. around." By most accounts, he held the reins during one of the city's toughest decades - riots, earthquakes, and police scandals - and left it in better shape than when he came in. (Riordan's critics credit the greatest economic expansion in US history.)
Then he ran for governor under the similar slogan, "tough enough to turn California around." A moderate in the GOP, Riordan was the hands-down poll favorite to beat Gray Davis in the 2002 gubernatorial election. Overconfident, unorganized, or both, he was knocked out of the Republican primary against William Simon after Democrat Davis - in a calculated but controversial move - spent $10 million dollars on ads portraying Riordan as too liberal for the Republican primary electorate.
He would like to get back at Davis for that; polls show he is well positioned to do so. Although a Republican in a state where the GOP have seemed an endangered species of late (governor, legislature, and all top-level government offices are Democratic), his nonideological, nuts-and-bolts approach to public office won over many Democrats in L.A. It helps that he favors abortion rights and is pro-gun control. During his terms as mayor, he also bridged the gap between the GOP and Latino voters and women who had considered the party too closed and strident.
But detractors say his avuncular persona is gregarious and overconfident to the point of being "goofy" - a word that political opponents used to label him after several verbal gaffes in a 2002 campaign for governor. (He labeled the state outside L.A. as "strange" and answered campaign questions with, "I'll tell you after I'm elected.") And on occasion he can be bellicose, unbending, and unpredictable.
But even his enemies concede that he can be, in the words of his wife, "Smart, generous, joyful."
Born in Flushing, N.Y., in 1930, Riordan came from a comfortable family life. As a teen, he worked at a 7-UP bottling plant. Later, he moved on to study philosophy at Princeton. He had a stint as an Army lieutenant in Korea, returned to the US to study law at University of Michigan, and then amassed a personal fortune in the range of $100 million - starting with a $100,000 family inheritance - as a venture capitalist. Although he is often called a businessman, he has never really run a business. Rather, it's Riordan's investments that have paid off. He was one of the earliest investors in the first company to produce the birth-control pill (Syntex) and later amassed stock in a company that pioneered computer workstations (Convergent Technologies).