Riordan “Stunned” by Friend, Aide Says

Times Staff Writer

Among the many Californians amazed when Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the governor’s race late Wednesday afternoon was the actor’s Brentwood neighbor and friend, Richard Riordan, former mayor of Los Angeles.

Riordan was “stunned” when he learned from a television newscast that Schwarzenegger would challenge Gov. Gray Davis for the state’s top post, according to one of Riordan’s closest confidants. The two-term mayor believed Schwarzenegger had committed to sitting out the race, leaving Riordan free to run without contesting his friend, the confidant said.

Of the two, Riordan led in most polls. As late as Wednesday morning, he had spoken to Schwarzenegger and gotten no inkling that the movie hero was about to announce his first run for public office -- taking the plunge in a “Tonight Show” appearance with host Jay Leno.


“So this is what it feels like to be mugged,” said the Riordan advisor, who asked not to be named.

The two Republicans had been saying for weeks that they were working closely together and that only one would enter the race for governor. Their intent: to avoid splitting the vote among their likely supporters -- moderates of both parties and independents.

Schwarzenegger and his top political aides could not be reached for a response. Riordan also was unavailable Wednesday night, but the advisor said the 73-year-old multimillionaire might still decide to enter the race.

Schwarzenegger painted a different picture of his interaction with Riordan in a brief news conference outside the Burbank studio where he appeared with Leno. He described a two-week discussion with his family that finally “crystallized” his intention to run.

As for Riordan, Schwarzenegger indicated that he and his ally had deliberately maintained the suspense. “We wanted to make sure everyone was guessing -- who is going to do it?”

That remark particularly galled the Riordan advisor, who said there was no such collaboration: “This idea that we have worked together, keeping people guessing and all this for the last few weeks is [ridiculous].”

It remains unclear whether Schwarzenegger’s announcement completes a heart-wrenching, two-week deliberation, as the actor suggested, or was merely a masterful piece of timing.

What is clear is that few outside the Schwarzenegger camp saw it coming or let on that it might happen.

Most of his closest political advisors insisted as late as midday that they did not expect Schwarzenegger to enter the contest.

In a statement Wednesday morning, prospective Schwarzenegger campaign manager George Gorton said the former bodybuilder from Austria was leaning toward staying out of the election.

Most major media outlets had been reporting for at least a week that Schwarzenegger probably would decide against entering the race and that Riordan might then decide to run. Schwarzenegger did little, if anything, to rebut those reports.

Riordan, meanwhile, had all the markings of a man about to reenter the fray after losing in the Republican primary last year to businessman Bill Simon Jr., another friend and neighbor of the former mayor.

“A few days ago I talked to Riordan, and it was all about his running for governor. He seemed upbeat,” said a Riordan friend who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Arnold getting into the race did not even seem part of the equation.

“There are a number of private polls going around, and none of them are remotely positive for the governor,” said the friend, who speculated that the poll numbers made the race too enticing for Schwarzenegger to turn down.

Bryce Nelson, a journalism professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, said he expected Schwarzenegger’s television surprise to be just the first of many attempts to stay in control of his message.

“It provides much more drama if you keep everybody guessing,” Nelson said. “I would not put anything past the great manipulator and Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

In the opening moments of his candidacy Wednesday, Schwarzenegger was content to straddle the line between movie star and candidate. He cited at least three payoff lines from the film world, including “Hasta la vista, baby,” before ending the news conference with his signature “I’ll be back!”

Said Nelson: “It’s all show business, man. It’s L.A.”