Mayor Richard Riordan officially launched his reelection campaign Tuesday by returning to the powerful theme that swept him into office four years ago: improving public safety without raising taxes.
The mayor, who was elected to that post in his first bid for elected office, punctuated his announcement by showcasing his latest endorsement, a politically potent nod from the city’s police union. And he chose to make his declaration in the heart of the area that helped propel him to victory in 1993, the San Fernando Valley.
“Together, we have changed Los Angeles,” Riordan told a cheering crowd of about 200 supporters gathered at a Studio City lodge. “We have met every challenge with strength and confidence. But we have only begun.”
Riordan’s short announcement speech was dominated by references to public safety and the city’s Police Department.
In 1993, Riordan won office by convincing voters that he was “tough enough to turn L.A. around.” In his announcement Tuesday, the mayor said: “Public safety must always be our No. 1 priority.”
In one sense, the announcement Tuesday was anticlimactic: Riordan already had made clear his intention to seek a second term and had filed the paperwork declaring his candidacy. But the speech officially launches a seven-week campaign that pits Riordan against state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles). That campaign offers voters a choice between two candidates with some similarities in their backgrounds and yet vastly different visions for the city.
Although Riordan, 67, enjoys a commanding lead in the polls, the campaign has potential pitfalls for him. Hayden, 57, is a deft politician with a lifetime of experience in policy debates; he already has homed in on potential weak spots in Riordan’s record, and he is a relentless campaigner.
On Tuesday, Hayden hammered Riordan for making his announcement and then leaving without fielding questions from reporters.
“He was taken in and taken out by his handlers as if they were handling someone who’s been in storage,” said Hayden, who was in Sacramento when Riordan made his announcement but returned to Los Angeles in the afternoon. “How can a person who has hidden from the public . . . possibly revitalize this city?”
That criticism is part of Hayden’s broader challenge to Riordan’s record. Among other things, Hayden has attacked the mayor’s role in overseeing the troubled Metropolitan Transportation Authority and has accused Riordan of a shortsighted approach to public safety. Hayden has endorsed Police Chief Willie L. Williams, who is seeking reappointment to a second term but whose administration of the LAPD has frustrated Riordan and his aides.
The Williams issue may soon come to a head, and it looms as potentially the most divisive question in the mayoral election--one that raises delicate questions of race relations and of the LAPD’s role in Los Angeles politics. The city’s Police Commission, whose members were appointed by Riordan and confirmed by the City Council, hopes to make a decision in the next few weeks on whether to grant Williams a second term.
On Tuesday, Riordan methodically listed his public safety achievements: expansion of the police force, a new Police Academy, replacement of worn-out equipment, addition of new computers and community police substations. The mayor did not mention Williams at all.
“I am proud of our progress, but I am more proud of the men and women in blue who put their lives on the line every minute of every day for Angelenos,” Riordan said. “They wear their badges with honor.”
During his years in office, the mayor has presided over a period in which Los Angeles experienced a steady decline in violent crime--mirroring similar drops in many American cities but falling short of the dramatic improvements found in some other places such as New York City.
Although Chief Williams was not present for Riordan’s speech, it was clear that he loomed in the background of the campaign kickoff. Williams has claimed credit for some of the progress that Riordan cited, but the chief’s role has been hotly disputed. For instance, Williams initially opposed Riordan’s call for expansion of the LAPD. Only after Riordan gave Williams the task of developing an expansion plan did the chief support the effort.
Similarly, Williams has said he deserves credit for modernizing the LAPD, but much of the department’s progress in computerization has been the result of a task force created by Riordan, and many of its other modernizing efforts have been spearheaded by City Councilwoman Laura Chick, who heads the Public Safety Committee.
In announcing its endorsement of Riordan, the Los Angeles Police Protective League cited the mayor’s role in helping to improve the lot of LAPD officers. Leaders of the organization, which also endorsed Riordan in 1993, took the same tack as the mayor and avoided any mention of Williams.
“The 9,000 rank-and-file members of our organization wish to express their support for a man who has been a great leader, partner and friend to the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department,” said League President Dave Hepburn. “We’re here again today because the mayor followed through on his pledge to the men of women of this department.”
According to Hepburn, a vote of the league’s membership showed that more than 88% of the city’s police officers support Riordan in a race against Hayden, a former student activist who once was a target of LAPD spying.
Riordan’s quest to convince voters that he is the candidate best suited to supervise the city’s public safety efforts already has struck a chord. A recent Times poll showed that 48% of respondents believed Riordan was the candidate who would be better at holding down crime; 23% said they believed Hayden would do a better job in that area.
But Riordan also campaigns under the cloud of a broken promise from his last campaign. In 1993, Riordan promised to expand the LAPD by 3,000 officers, a pledge he did not fulfill.
On Tuesday, Riordan highlighted his efforts to expand the LAPD, noting that under his leadership, the Police Department has “hired, trained and deployed over 2,000 new police officers.”
In a recent interview, Riordan called the 1993 pledge to hire and train 3,000 additional officers “irrelevant” and said that what was important was his administration’s success in hiring police and building the LAPD into the largest, most diverse department in its history.
Hayden, however, was unwilling to let Riordan so easily dismiss the 1993 promise.
“He failed to get 3,000 police, and he said he would quit if he failed to do that,” Hayden said. “Today, he wrapped up his failed promise as a victory.”
As he officially launched his reelection campaign, Riordan avoided making any new specific promises regarding the Police Department. Instead, he stressed the importance of public safety while not stating any specific goals for achieving it.
“I firmly believe that from a safe city all else follows,” Riordan said. “I have said this before, and I will say it again and again: A safe city is a city that acts as a magnet to attract job-creating businesses. A safe city fosters neighborhood pride and community involvement. A safe city brings tourists and visitors from all over the globe to Los Angeles--with a little help, of course, from our great climate, great beaches, mountains and our great Angeleno hospitality.”
As the campaign for mayor mounts, it pits two candidates who resemble each other in some ways, even as they differ in others. Hayden and Riordan are Irish Catholic, both were born outside the state, and they now live close to each other in Brentwood.
But the two have followed far different paths to the mayor’s race: Riordan, a New York native who came to the West Coast more than 40 years ago, made his fortune as a lawyer and businessman. Hayden, who is from Michigan, first became known for his student activism and has spent the last 15 years as a member of the California Legislature.
Over the last few weeks, Hayden has sketched out detailed approaches to a host of Los Angeles issues, ranging from his plan for revamping the city’s public transportation to his proposals for refocusing the city’s crime prevention efforts. Throughout, Hayden has spiritedly attacked Riordan’s record, accusing him of trying to disconnect himself from the problems of the city.
A group of Hayden supporters showed up at Riordan’s announcement Tuesday carrying signs and banners. They were escorted out of the area by a Riordan campaign aide.
Riordan has avoided direct challenges to Hayden. Although Riordan’s campaign staff has criticized Hayden’s Senate attendance record and otherwise lobbed challenges at Hayden, the mayor has not taken on the senator.
But Julio Ramirez, who is managing Riordan’s campaign, said the mayor will be making more public appearances in coming weeks.
“Definitely, the mayor will be out campaigning more,” he said. “He’ll be walking some precincts and making appearances.”
As for engaging Hayden directly, Ramirez said the mayor will concentrate on issues, not his competitor. “Public safety, the economy, education--that’s what people are concerned about, and he will absolutely be talking about those issues,” Ramirez said.