The Best Image That Money Can Buy

Clint Reilly, the solid gold campaign manager, is out with his first brochure for the mayoral election and, as expected, it's the best money can buy.

Reilly, who managed former San Francisco Police Chief Frank Jordan's upset victory in San Francisco's mayoral campaign last year, now is representing Richard Riordan, the solid gold candidate, our own Ross Perot. Riordan is a wealthy entrepreneur and attorney who's ready to dig deep into his own pockets rather than accept public financing.

It's a perfect match. Reilly knows only one class, first. In his San Francisco office, he serves coffee in china delicate enough for a wedding present, along with delicious pastry from one of the city's best bakeries. Riordan would appreciate that. He used to own the expensive Seventh Street Bistro in downtown Los Angeles.

The brochure is a beauty, although Perot wouldn't like it. Perot, a warts-and-all candidate, dumped the fancy image makers from his campaign and went on television with charts, a pointer and half-hour lectures. Reilly has come up with seven pages of color photos of a smiling Riordan in action, leafing through papers, supervising his Adohr Farms dairy loading dock, teaching kids at the reading lab he finances and riding his bike. Gritty black-and-white pictures show the city's troubles; a gun, uncollected garbage, homeless people and graffiti.

Enough of the images. What's most important is the message: Riordan, Tough Enough to Turn L.A. Around.

I could imagine the words speeding from Reilly's computer into print: "Let's face it. L.A. is a city in crisis. Rampant crime--violent streets--garbage and graffiti choking our neighborhoods. The homeless seem to have taken over parts of L.A. Good businesses--and good citizens--are fleeing a city in decline."

The same theme was sounded in a riveting speech during the opening of Riordan's campaign headquarters recently by a Latina supporter who said: "It is not white flight, it is fear flight" that is driving people from L.A. "It is the issue of safety."

After the speech, I talked to Reilly about the message.

Los Angeles, he said, is going downhill and everyone knows it. Unemployment, crime and other symptoms of urban decay afflict the city. The candidate who defines himself, or herself, as the person with the credentials to handle it wins.

Reilly figures homeowners, a substantial part of the L.A. electorate, will respond to this appeal, particularly Republicans and other conservatives. He estimated that 32% or more of the May primary electorate will be Republican. His conservative San Francisco mayoral candidate, Jordan, vaulted to victory from a Republican base of just 16%.

This approach is aimed at putting the conservative Riordan in a runoff against the liberal Michael Woo, a city councilman who runs second to Riordan in his fund-raising capabilities.

Woo also talks about being tough. But where Riordan raises the fear level--"it seems L.A. has returned to the days of the Wild West"--Woo seeks to bring a level of comfort to a frightened town. The message from Woo, the first councilman to demand the resignation of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, is, in effect: He's Tough Enough To Bring Us Together.

Riordan figures that while Bring Us Together was good enough to elect Tom Bradley in 1973, it's not the prescription for 1993's troubled L.A.

As the campaign begins, Riordan is far from certain of cornering Woo in a runoff.

His support on the right is threatened by a candidate who has made illegal immigration his only issue, former Deputy Mayor Tom Houston. Riordan aides have complained about news stories featuring Houston and the immigration issue, a sure sign that they're worried.

Councilman Joel Wachs will chip into Riordan's San Fernando Valley Republican base. And then there's the man who may be the third-best-funded candidate, the Valley's Assemblyman Richard Katz.

If Riordan is the Perot in the race, Katz is Bill Clinton.

After hiring Clinton's campaign manager, James Carville, Katz has taken a Clinton-like approach, shuttling between left and right, cribbing ideas with voter appeal from other candidates and uniting it all under a single, simple theme: "Until all of us can walk down the street safely and have a decent job, none of us have a quality of life."

Jobs also are discussed in the brochure that Reilly prepared for Riordan. But the most important image is found in a black-and-white picture occupying most of the two middle pages--a gloved hand pointing a gun at you. It may be frightening enough to win.

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