Richard Riordan

From Academic Kids

Richard J. Riordan (born May 1,1930) is a Republican politician from California, currently serving as the California Secretary for Education, and had been Mayor of Los Angeles from 19932001. Riordan ran for Governor of California unsuccessfully in 2002. A Catholic, he is married to Nancy Daly Riordan, with whom he has three daughters.


Pre-political life

Riordan, who has some Hispanic ancestors, was born in Flushing, New York and attended Princeton University, earning a degree in Philosophy. He then served in the Korean War, and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1956. Shortly thereafter received an inheritance from his father. He invested the money in four firms—Control Data Corporation, Litton Industries, Haloid (predecessor of Xerox), and Syntex—and within a few years had converted an $80,000 investment into almost $500,000.

He moved to Los Angeles to begin work as an attorney for the downtown law firm of O'Melveny & Myers, but spent the next several years moving from firm to firm while honing his skills as a venture capitalist. Among his successes were the first company to produce low-cost cassette tapes, as well as a $650,000 investment in Convergent Technologies which soared to $19.9 million when it was acquired by Unisys in 1985.

In the mid-1980s he formed the own venture capital firm of Riordan, Lewis & Haden with a J. Christopher Lewis, a former professional tennis player, and former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Pat Haden. In addition to venture projects, Riordan was also involved in several leveraged buyouts of supermarket chains and, most notably, toy manufacturer Mattel in 1984.


When Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley announced his retirement, Riordan's interest turned to the 1993 mayoral election. It was to be a pivotal election for several reasons. Bradley had served in office for five terms, so the winner would be the first new face in two decades. During this time Los Angeles had became a major world city, but had also witnessed a dramatic rise in crime, especially gang violence, traffic, and other problems damaging the region's quality of life. The booming economy of the last three decades had fizzled. Racial tensions had a risen with the LAPD under Chief Daryl Gates under sharp criticism for his tactics, and when a Korean-American store owner, Soon Ja Du, was sentenced only to probation after she had shot 13-year old Latasha Harlins over a bottle of orange juice. Overshadowing and overarching all were the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which followed the aquittal of four LAPD officers accused of beating African-American motorist Rodney King.

Riordan and Mike Woo, City Councilman for Hollywood, emerged as the leading candidates in a fierce and bitter race. Although municipal elections in California were non-partisan, the news media observed that Republican Riordan and Democrat Woo contrasted starkly. Riordan campaigned as a businessman "tough enough to turn LA around." He promised to crack down on crime, stating that "from a safe city, all else follows," by hiring thousands of additional police officers, and to shore up the city's finances and business environment by reducing regulation and contracting private firms to operate LAX. Riordan spent heavily on his campaigns out of his own pocket. Woo's campaign criticized the police and attacked Riordan as too wealthy and too white to understand the issues of concern to the ordinary Angeleno.

In the event, Riordan won a decisive victory, becoming the first Republican mayor in over thirty years. Many of his proposals were blocked by the heavily Democratic City Council or proved simply unfeasible in reality; for example, the police academy did not have enough classroom space and instructors to train as many new police officers as Riordan had initially promised. Nevertheless, he was seen as successful. He successfully streamlined certain business regulations and established "one-stop" centers around the city for functions such as permit applications. He feuded with Gates' successor, former Philadelphia police commissioner Willie Williams, but oversaw a general decline in crime. In 1997 he was re-elected in a landslide.

Riordan tackled the problem of governing the sprawling city by spearheading the creation of neighborhood-based councils, to provide community organizations a way to participate in governance. He paid special attention to improving the state of the Los Angeles Unified School District; while he had no direct jurisdiction over that body, he campaigned heavily for reform-oriented candidates. He further invested his own personal money into California's school system, spending nearly $50 million for new classroom furnishings, including computers. Indeed, while mayor, Riordan was noted for his refusal to accept the job's salary, instead living comfortably off his wealth. In 1999 he backed a City Charter reform that curtailed the ability of members of the City Council to block reforms.

2002 gubernatorial race

In 2002, Riordan, a moderate Republican called a "Republican In Name Only" by some, decided to seek the governorship. He was opposed in the Republican primary election by conservative businessman Bill Simon and former California Secretary of State Bill Jones. Although it appeared that he was leading earlier in the race, he eventually lost to Simon.

One controversial aspect of his loss was the fact that Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, ran advertisements against Riordan, claiming that Riordan was not conservative enough to be a Republican — essentially helping the Simon campaign. It is very rare for a candidate to try to influence the other party's primary in such a manner; however, Davis felt that he had a much better chance against the conservative Simon than the moderate Riordan, and that the move was worth the risk. Riordan lost the primary, and Davis went on to defeat Simon in the general election by a close margin.

California Secretary for Education

When Davis was removed by the 2003 California recall, there was speculation that Riordan might run for his office. However, after friend and fellow moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his intention to run, Riordan decided against running himself. He endorsed Schwarzenegger, and, following his victory, served on his transition team, and was appointed to the cabinet as Secretary for Education.

Not known for his eloquence, Riordan became the center of a media circus, due to a remark made July 1 2004 to a 6-year-old girl in Santa Monica. During a children's library event, a girl asked Riordan if he knew what her name, Isis, meant. Riordan responded, "it means stupid, dirty girl," laughed with several others in the crowd, and then asked her what it really meant. She then replied, "It means 'Egyptian goddess'," to which Riordan stated, "That's neat." He later explained it as a failed attempt at humor. Although Governor Schwarzenegger continues to support him, Riordan's resignation has been demanded by State Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, citizens' rights groups, and civil rights groups, including the NAACP and LULAC. The NAACP, however, rescinded their insistence after learning that the girl was white.

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