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Riordan: 'Goofy' or a Mr. Fixit?

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A lifelong Catholic, Riordan raised five children with his first wife of 25 years, then got an annulment before marrying his second wife, Nancy Daly. His life has also had its share of sadness: one daughter died as a teenager. And a 21-year-old son died in a diving accident.

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The multimillionaire has used much of his wealth for philanthropy through the Riordan Foundation, which has donated millions to children's causes.

Some of his money has also been donated to political campaigns. Even Democrats have received large contributions, which helped increase his popularity across party lines in two mayoral elections. Statewide polls show wide acceptance by Democrats statewide as well. That support will have to be nurtured and sustained by trumpeting his record in L.A., which is generally positive but not without controversy.

He angered City Council members from the beginning by trying to usurp their power. He presided over an exodus of Fortune 500 company headquarters - forced partly by global trends - but is generally considered to have reversed the city's negative image for business. He also campaigned for, and was successful in, a rewrite of the city charter, giving the mayor more power over key appointments and managers.

He is also considered to have given a bravura performance in the aftermath of the most damaging earthquake in US history - the $64 billion Northridge tremblor - getting city services, highways, and aid monies all moving far more quickly than government counterparts did in northern California, after a large earthquake there in 1989.

But, although he aided in rebuilding the city after the quake, the mayor was criticized for not spending enough time revitalizing neighborhoods. More than $200 million in federal antipoverty funds available to Los Angeles went unspent during his tenure.

Police relations

Much of what Riordan was able to accomplish, however, remains fuzzy. Although crime dropped for six of the eight years he was in office, crime rates began to rise near the end of his tenure despite leveling off nationwide. Police departures exceeded recruitment in a department with dwindling morale, and critics say Riordan did not do enough to strengthen civilian oversight despite LA.'s decade in the world spotlight as the poster child for police corruption. Notoriously, Riordan resisted federal efforts to force controls on the police.

Despite his storied charm, he proved that he could also be deceptive. When a proposal came up requiring city contractors to pay wages above the state minimum, Riordan said businesses which did not paying a so-called "living wage" were immoral. Then he later vetoed the measure, saying it would be bad for business.

In the years since leaving office, Riordan has maintained a public presence through activism for civic and social causes. With his backing, he proclaimed the birth of a new weekly magazine as an alternative to the Los Angeles Times. A prototype edition was produced but the paper is still in development.

Now that the political plum of governor's office is being dangled in front of him again, Riordan says that his love of civic duty is once again beckoning. Analysts say his strength will be running as a practical manager who can get the state back on solid financial footing - possibly as just a "caretaker" governor, completing Davis's term only until the next election in 2006.

To those who believe he can't get things done, he loves to point out a political caricature that hung at the back of his eighth-floor mayor's office here. Entitled "Tunnel Vision," the caricature pictures Riordan as a mayoral candidate in ghoulish grays with distorted facial features - as if to say he would impose maniacal or narrow ideas on Los Angeles.

"My opponents loved to belittle me with this during the last election," he says with a cackle. "They lost. I won."