Richard Riordan backs Wendy Greuel for L.A. mayor

Wendy Greuel, center, shown in 2005, on Wednesday received the endorsement of former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, right, for her own mayoral bid. Greuel said she has asked Riordan to serve on her staff to help connect the business community with organized labor.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan backed Wendy Greuel’s mayoral bid Wednesday and said if she wins, he will join her administration as a senior advisor on the ongoing budget crisis at City Hall.

Riordan, a Republican whose crusade to overhaul the city’s pension system has made him an enemy of labor unions, said Greuel asked him to serve on her staff to help connect the business community and organized labor on ways to control the costs of healthcare benefits and city pensions.

Greuel said in a statement that Riordan, 82, agreed to work for $1 a year and would be her “first hire” as mayor.


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“I will help bring labor and business together to save the city,” said Riordan, who has also joined Greuel’s campaign team.

Wednesday’s announcement pairs the former mayor, a wealthy businessman who has warned that public employee costs have pushed the city to the brink of bankruptcy, with Greuel, who has been attacking opponent Eric Garcetti over his support for layoffs, furloughs and other cost-cutting measures.

Riordan’s endorsement could help Greuel woo conservative voters, who are up for grabs after the primary defeat of Kevin James, a Republican whom Riordan had initially endorsed. Greuel and Garcetti have sought to strike a balance between business and labor support in the contest to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

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In the past, Riordan has accused Garcetti and Greuel of being too close to the unions. Campaigning earlier this month, he said James was “the only one running” who would keep the city from bankruptcy. “The others can’t possibly run our city well because they can’t make major pension changes,” he said. “They are owned by the unions.”


His endorsement came the same week Greuel locked up support from the 600,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. She also has support from an array of city employee unions that bitterly fought Riordan’s proposed pension reductions, including the Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers.

Riordan’s new role in the Greuel campaign was disclosed the day before Greuel was scheduled to explain her views on city pensions to the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

The group has endorsed Greuel, but voiced uneasiness with some of her recent statements regarding retirement benefits.

Appearing before labor leaders recently, Greuel attacked the council’s decision to cut retirement benefits for new employees, saying the move should have been the subject of negotiations with city unions. She subsequently told The Times she would seek to reopen talks on the topic, but backtracked Tuesday. Greuel now says she would only talk to unions about ways of avoiding a legal fight over the changes.

Last fall, the chamber backed Riordan’s unsuccessful effort to force a public vote on shifting new city employees to 401(k)-style retirement plans, and away from guaranteed pensions.

On Wednesday, a prominent Greuel supporter sought to reassure chamber officials that she would press hard to cut retirement costs. In an email, campaign co-chair and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg said Greuel would explore a hike in the retirement age for existing city employees.


One City Hall union leader responded that changing retirement benefits for current employees is not a topic open to discussion. “Our members have already made a sacrifice and that can’t be ignored,” said Alice Goff, president of the city union that represents clerks and typists.

While Greuel touted Riordan’s backing, Garcetti announced support from another prominent Republican, real estate developer Steve Soboroff, who ran for mayor in 2001 and was endorsed by Riordan.

Garcetti’s team hopes the endorsement will help secure votes in the San Fernando Valley, where Soboroff performed well in his mayoral campaign. In a statement, Soboroff called Garcetti a problem solver who appeals to younger voters.

Garcetti also picked up support from the New Frontier Democratic Club, a prominent African American political group that endorsed City Councilwoman Jan Perry in the primary.