Rick Orlov, a veteran political reporter who covered City Hall for the Los Angeles Daily News for nearly three decades, beginning in the Tom Bradley administration, died Monday. He was 66.
Orlov died in Los Angeles of complications from diabetes, according to his sister, Joanne Levy. She said Orlov, who had been on dialysis for years, suffered a fall a few weeks ago and had been hospitalized. A prolific reporter who wrote dozens of articles each month, he was working up to the end, with his final story appearing in Monday's newspaper.
On the City Hall beat since the late 1980s, Orlov earned a reputation for his deep knowledge of the inner workings of California's largest city. His death brought an outpouring of grief from the political class he watched so closely.
"City Hall is in mourning," said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who praised Orlov as a mentor to young reporters and "a counselor to elected officials."
Former Mayor Richard Riordan remembered Orlov as "a beautiful man" whose reporting was "accurate and fair to everybody."
City Council President Herb Wesson said he hopes to rename the City Hall media center, where news conferences are often held, in Orlov's honor.
Short, with a raspy voice and a quick smile, Orlov covered the city's responses to major events including the L.A. riots and the Northridge earthquake. A political junkie, he was well-known for his weekly "Tipoff" column in which he delved into the machinations of City Hall policy and political campaigns.
For years, he was known for another weekly ritual: the Friday night get-togethers he hosted in his newspaper's bureau after deadlines had been met.
In those days, it was still permissible for Orlov to smoke inside the building and pour cocktails for his guests, who included other reporters as well as politicians, their aides, and City Hall lobbyists. The parties were a place where officials could speak candidly off the record without worrying their words might appear in the newspaper or on the radio.
"It was one of the best things at City Hall when all the people gathered and left their egos and emblems outside the door while Rick Orlov presided," said Zev Yaroslavsky, a former city councilman and Los Angeles County supervisor. Yaroslavsky, who shared with Orlov an interest in golf — as well as a diabetes diagnosis — said Orlov stood out for his sweetness.
"In an industry where most political reporters are cynical and wear their cynicism on their sleeve ... he was a mensch," Yaroslavsky said.
Orlov was born in Chicago in 1948, the eldest of three children. As a child, he was enamored of westerns, his sister said, and would swagger around with fake guns tucked into holsters.
His father's job at an insurance company brought the family to Encino in 1959. He swam competitively at Birmingham High School and became interested in journalism at Cal State Northridge. After graduating in 1970, he got a job at the Copley News Service and a few years later the Daily News. After working as an editor for several years, he asked his supervisors if he could return to reporting and was assigned to cover City Hall.
"He liked being toe to toe with politicians," his sister said. "I don't think he ever really thought of it as a job."
In 1990, Orlov was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He received the Los Angeles Press Club's Joseph M. Quinn award for lifetime achievement in 2009.
Dakota Smith, a Daily News reporter who shared an office with Orlov for the last four years, said he was a gracious colleague who emailed her his entire list of contacts on her first day. "Other reporters might not do that because they are so competitive," Smith said. "But he was just generous in that way."
In recent years, his illness forced him to quit drinking and smoking. After foot surgery several years ago, he shuffled to news conferences with the help of a cane. Still, he showed up for work and volunteered for assignments, Smith said. When the City Council was in recess and there were few stories to write, Orlov would get grumpy, she said, because he didn't know what to do with himself. "Work — and City Hall — was his life," she said.
Along with his sister, he is survived by his younger brother, Joe.
The Daily News is planning a public memorial service next week.