Riordan Wins Mayor’s Race : Four New Members Elected to City Council : Election: Republican victor says he wants to bring business back to city and make it ‘safe and friendly.’ A new majority coalition emerges among electorate.


Richard Riordan, a wealthy businessman barely known to voters six months ago, Tuesday defeated City Councilman Michael Woo to become the first Republican mayor of Los Angeles in 36 years.

Combining a strong stand against crime with a long record of philanthropy, Riordan won a bitter race, overcoming an opponent who had sought to portray him as a right-winger unsuited to govern a diverse city bristling with racial tension.

Riordan, a venture capitalist reputed to be worth more than $100 million, also won his first bid for elective office on the strength of the $6-million personal contribution he made to his campaign, helping to make the race the most expensive in the city’s history.


It was the first mayoral race in 64 years without an incumbent, and it was the first time in 24 years that retiring Mayor Tom Bradley was not on the ballot.

In choosing Riordan over Woo, voters rejected the heir apparent to Bradley’s biracial coalition. And the combination of San Fernando Valley Republicans and Democratic centrists who elected Riordan represent a new majority in city politics.

With 97% of the vote counted, Riordan led 54% to 46%.

In an acceptance speech that broke into the televised broadcast of Woo’s concession, Riordan, 63, promised to be “a mayor dedicated to bringing business back to this city by making this city safe and friendly.”

“Today the citizens of Los Angeles said no to business as usual in City Hall,” Riordan said after thanking supporters ranging from Stan Sanders, the leading black candidate in the mayoral primary, to actor Billy Barty.

Riordan, who will take office July 1, called his victory “personal and bittersweet. Personal because it took every ounce of determination and energy that I ever thought I had. Bittersweet because I cannot share this victory with the most special person in my life--my mother,” who died last week in New York.

In his concession speech, Woo, 41, congratulated Riordan and said: “This was a hard-fought campaign. The time for campaigning is over and the time for coming together is here.”


Woo had campaigned as the candidate best-qualified to represent the city’s broad array of ethnic groups.

But Riordan, who made much of his generosity to inner-city schools, had support in some minority communities, especially among Latinos. And while black voters lined up solidly behind his opponent, a handful of endorsements from prominent African-Americans helped Riordan blunt the efforts of his opponent to brand him being anti-minority.

Still, the preponderance of Riordan’s voters are white residents of affluent, or at least comfortable, neighborhoods. Moreover, those who voted for him in this election represent a fraction of the population he will have to govern. Riordan will be judged quickly on his ability to reach out to those inner-city inhabitants who either didn’t vote for him or didn’t vote at all.

“As mayor, I will ensure that every citizen has an opportunity to succeed,” he said Tuesday night. “My Administration will be made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents, people of every race, creed, color and sexual orientation. I will recruit the best and brightest from every part of this city.”

Fueled by massive injections of money and vitriol, the officially nonpartisan mayoral race turned into a bitter partisan battle for Democratic votes in a city that has not elected a Republican mayor in 36 years.

In addition to relentless attacks on Riordan during the closing days of the campaign, the key ingredients of Woo’s campaign included the endorsement of President Clinton and a last-ditch drive to get Democratic voters to the polls.


A campaign that started out as a debate over how to best reduce crime, stimulate the economy and heal racial divisions swiftly degenerated into rhetorical roughhousing, with Woo impugning Riordan’s character and Riordan assailing Woo’s competence.

The issues receded as images of vagrants, prostitutes and boarded-up buildings starred in Riordan’s version of Los Angeles under a Woo mayoralty. On the other side, insensitive cracks about poor people, images of racially exclusive country clubs and laid-off workers came to symbolize the world of Riordan as seen through the Woo campaign lens.

With public opinion polls showing the race virtually even as the campaign entered the final week, Woo harped on Riordan’s newly revealed record of three alcohol-related arrests from 1964 to 1975. In debates and campaign mail, Woo said Riordan’s delayed disclosure of his third and most recent brush with the law--a 1975 drunk-driving arrest--raised the issue of trust.

Riordan sought to appeal to voters of all persuasions who were fed up with the status quo. His message was simple: Crime is ruining the city and nobody is doing anything about it.

Woo relied on a well-oiled campaign machine that he had been assembling for the last two years. Although he could not match Riordan dollar for dollar, Woo was able to remain financially competitive on the basis of contributions from Asian-Americans, the entertainment industry and a variety of local business interests who are traditionally generous to city officeholders.

Riordan waged a slick, all-out media campaign to boost his profile and broadcast his anti-crime, pro-business theme--outspending Woo by a 2-1 margin.


The election capped a bitter struggle between two men who represented warring traditions in Los Angeles politics.

With his background in venture capitalism, his close connections to the local Catholic hierarchy and his emphasis on reducing crime and improving the business climate, Riordan evoked a pioneer vision of Los Angeles as a clean, well-run place where opportunities abound.

“I want the city to be clean and safe,” Riordan said. “I want children to be educated so they have the skills to compete in our society. I want the environment to be clean, and I want every citizen in Los Angeles to be proud to be an Angeleno.”

More than 20 years younger than Riordan, a product of the 1960s who exults in the hubbub of the new, polyglot city, Woo spoke of government’s obligation to ensure that people of all races and incomes have access to public services and private capital. On the City Council he made a reputation as a champion of street vendors, political refugees and gay activists. Although he made crime-fighting a centerpiece of his mayoral campaign, he came late to the cause, having built his base in South-Central Los Angeles on the strength of his opposition to former Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.

Woo’s strongest support came from the black community, from organized labor, gay rights activists, abortion rights groups, environmentalists and tenants. Riordan’s base was in the San Fernando Valley, where he was most popular among Republicans. But Riordan could not have been competitive in this predominantly Democratic city without the ability to appeal to a substantial number of moderates, Jews, Latinos and Asian-Americans.

Historian Kevin Starr, the prolific chronicler of California culture, described Woo as “a Silver Lake bohemian. . . . His politics come out of the utopian haze of UC Santa Cruz.”


With Riordan, Starr said, “there is the smell of cigar smoke in the air. He cut his teeth in the Los Angeles of Sam Yorty, Cardinal (James Francis) McIntyre and Asa Call. His Procrustean style recalls the big-shouldered politics of Chicago or Boston.”

Riordan moved quickly to make the mayoral race a referendum on leadership in post-riot Los Angeles. He blamed city government and Woo, an eight-year member of the City Council, for the crime, taxes, red tape and general ineptitude that he said is driving business and the middle class out of the city. A glossy brochure picturing a leering derelict with a caption that read “Welcome to Mike Woo’s Los Angeles” captured the spirit of Riordan’s relentless drive to hold his opponent responsible for the woes of a city mired in recession.

Woo fired back with his own campaign of caricatures, tarring Riordan with the excesses of the 1980s, tying him to junk bond manipulator Michael Milken (a friend of Riordan), accusing him of profiting obscenely from corporate takeovers that cost thousands of jobs, linking him to the religious right, citing his memberships in clubs that once excluded minorities, and making much of Riordan’s arrest record.

“Dick Riordan has given $70,000 to anti-choice extremists” one of Woo’s mailings said. In a Woo television commercial warning of the influence of right-wing Christians, Riordan’s picture fades into the profile of evangelist Pat Robertson.

Beneath the hype, there were striking similarities between the candidates. Both men benefited from close ties to the Bradley Administration. Bradley interceded on Woo’s behalf during a redistricting battle several years ago that threatened to separate Woo from his Hollywood base. A generous contributor to Bradley, Riordan was a mayoral appointee to two city commissions and acted as an informal adviser to the mayor on a number of occasions.

Although he positioned himself as the outsider in this race, Riordan is no stranger to government. His law firm has profited handsomely from local government contracts and Riordan has frequently functioned as a behind-the-scenes negotiator working on behalf of government and private interests who sought to do business with government.


One irony of the campaign is that the candidates’ animosity toward one another tended to obscure a shared agenda for the city. Although they disagreed on the means, both saw the expansion of the Police Department and the reform of the City Hall bureaucracy as the two most important tasks facing the next mayor.

Riordan has proposed leasing out the Los Angeles International Airport as the principal way to pay for 3,000 more police officers, which he has promised to hire over the next four years. Woo has scoffed at Riordan’s plan as a pie-in-the-sky scheme that would not begin to yield the necessary revenue. He proposed a plan to hire 2,200 police officers by cutting the budgets of the mayor and council and by dedicating any new revenues to adding officers.

Both men offered detailed proposals for simplifying the process of issuing business permits. They agreed that making the city’s bureaucracy friendly to business is a top priority. But they took different views of taxes: Riordan promised not to raise them and Woo said that he would not raise taxes that discourage new business but that he was amenable to a new levy on residential trash collection.

And bowing to the influential public employee unions in his camp, Woo opposed Riordan’s plan to contract out city trash collection services. Woo said such a step would threaten the jobs of hundreds of sanitation workers, most of whom are African-American or Latino.