Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan Dead at 92

Kevork Djansezian

A writer at the Los Angeles Weekly often referred to former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan as “Mayor Howdy,” but I never understood why. Yeah, he was no orator and was a bit wooden in his vocal delivery, but his administrative instincts were spot on. Riordan not only had a love for Los Angeles, but he understood how a city should be run. He glided between the management of rabid media to the management of natural disasters without too many hiccups. More importantly, he helped the city of Los Angeles thrive. Riordan oversaw a golden age in LA, improving upon the strong foundation laid by his predecessor Mayor Tom Bradley. Once elected to office, Riordan took up the mantle and built upon it.


On Wednesday, the first Republican mayor to serve the city in 36 years and the last Republican mayor of Los Angeles to date, has passed away. He was 92.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Richard Riordan, the two-term Los Angeles mayor who helped rebuild the city in the wake of the Rodney King riots in 1992 and the devastating Northridge earthquake two years later, has died. He was 92.

Riordan died Wednesday at his home in Brentwood, his daughter Patricia Riordan Torrey announced.

A venture capitalist and moderate Republican, Riordan served as mayor from 1993 — succeeding the retiring Tom Bradley and winning his first election ever — until 2001, when term limits ended his run. He defeated legislator Tom Hayden, former husband of Jane Fonda, to be re-elected.

Still thanking God for that one. Hayden was the first progressive Leftist sniffing around to turn the tide of the city. Sadly, he was not the last. In his two terms, Riordan was able to hold the line and perfect the balance between the divergent ideologies that represented the city.

Riordan also was mayor during the 1994-95 O.J. Simpson criminal murder trial that riveted L.A. and the world.

“Mayor Richard Riordan loved Los Angeles and devoted so much of himself to bettering our city,” Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement. “He always had a place in his heart for the children of L.A. and worked to improve how the city served our youth and communities as a passionate member of the Los Angeles Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners.”

His legacy, she added, includes the downtown Central Library, “which he saved and rebuilt and which today carries his name.” (He once proposed to sell it and lease it back, however.)

Riordan also enlisted his friend, philanthropist Eli Broad, to raise money to get Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall project back on track, and it would open in 2003. And he owned restaurants around L.A., including the Original Pantry Café, which dates to 1924, and the Tavern, both downtown; and Gladstone’s in Malibu.


The California Globe gives some excellent background on Riordan the man and his electoral victories:

Born in New York City in 1930, Riordan graduated from Princeton University in 1952 with a Bachelor’s Degree and from the University of Michigan in 1956 with a law degree, with the latter coming after service in the Korean War. Later in 1956, he moved to Los Angeles, taking a job as a lawyer at an LA firm. For the next several decades, Riordan remained a lawyer in the city while also being a prominent member of the GOP. While not elected to any positions, he did find himself in non-elected positions, such as becoming the Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioner in the late 1980s. He also was in headlines around the state in 1986 when he helped oust state Supreme Court Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird in 1986.

In 1993, Riordan ran for Mayor of Los Angeles, winning the Primary to face Councilman Michael Woo. In a charged election, both Riordan fought hard on both economic issues, as LA was seeing a large decrease in Defense Contractor and aerospace jobs following the end of the Cold War, and crime issues, as gang warfare was at it’s peak in the city and the election was coming only a year after the Rodney King riots. While Riordan initially had trouble getting votes outside his San Fernando Valley, Westside, and Harbor bases, a spirited campaign brought out many diverse voting blocs to come out to vote for him, including the Jewish vote and the gay vote. In a stunning turnaround, Riordan beat Woo 54% to 46%, becoming the first Republican Mayor of Los Angeles in 36 years.


As the last of 10 children, Riordan obviously knew how to form coalitions and build consensus. Riordan was also the last mayor who was not simply a rubber stamp for the City Council. Riordan and the Democrat-run council faced off often, but despite their obstruction, he was able to bring about permit reform, bring crime rates down, and guide the city through the 1994 Northridge earthquake. After the 1994 Rodney King riots, Riordan expanded the police department by 10,000 officers. He handily won re-election in 1997. His second term was less illustrious, plagued by the 1999 LAPD Rampart scandal.

Sadly, once he was termed out in 2001, the luster of the city began to fade, and it’s been a downhill slide since then. One term of the feckless Democrat James Hahn, two terms of Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, and then two terms of Democrat Eric Garcetti has put the city on life support. Socialist Democrat Mayor Karen Bass may just as well pull the plug.

Riordan ran for California governor in 2002, but was primaried in what was then a two-party primary contest. Democrat Gray Davis won the general election, but was recalled and replaced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Riordan served as Secretary of Education under Schwarzenegger from 2003 to 2004. As Mayor Bass said in her statement, the children of Los Angeles had a place in his heart. To promote childhood literacy, he created the Riordan Foundation, which has given away more than $50 million in grants.


Riordan is survived by his fourth wife Elizabeth Gregory, his sister Mary Elizabeth, his daughters Patricia, Elizabeth, and Kathleen Ann, and grandchildren Luca, Jessica, and Elizabeth.


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