Dick Riordan, was more like a friend than a politician. Somebody you could call if you had a problem. It was a call, in fact, that started our association, me as a reporter and Riordan, as the Mayor of Los Angeles.
“Ron Olsen calling” I said, “I’d like to speak with somebody in the office about the Mayor’s….” I was suddenly cut off. “One minute, Mr. Olsen, I’ll put you through” the voice at the other end of the line said. Then, following a beep and a click, the Mayor picked up the line. “Ron! How ya doin?” It was Mayor Riordan, who thought I was his close friend, Los Angeles attorney Ron Olson, and not yours truly, a reporter from KTLA, looking for a story.
I let the Mayor go on for fifteen or twenty seconds before cutting him off and informing him that I was a reporter and not the attorney. I could feel his shock traveling down the line as he handed me off to one of his press people.
Later, a deputy mayor who was also a friend, told me in no uncertain terms that Riordan was impressed that I had cut off the conversation before he spilled the beans about something. About what, I never learned, but apparently he was about to say something that was in no way for public consumption. All I had to do was to keep listening. The feeling in the Mayor’s Office, apparently, was shock that there was at least one ethical reporter left in Los Angeles. You have to remember that in most circles, politicians see journalists as being the enemy, and generally speaking, we are. It’s our job to try and keep them honest, but I wasn’t going to corrupt my ethics to do it. At least not that one time and not under those circumstances.
And so it was that the Mayor and I became buddies of a sort. I’d be out at an event and the Mayor would walk up, several of his aides in tow, wanting to talk. And talk he would, as his aides virtually melted down, as the Mayor told me things they felt I shouldn’t be hearing. God, it was fun. He never told me anything I felt obligated to put on the air, something our viewers were entitled to know even though it wasn’t public knowledge. But his aides still went nuts when we talked, and I loved it. He might have too. That could have been why he did it. Just for kicks. I’m really not sure.
And if he ever did feed me a story because he liked me and I ran with it…well, you’ll never learn about it from me.
Then there was the gorilla in his backyard. You might expect an elephant maybe as he was a Republican, but why a gorilla?
I was at his house doing an interview about the ongoing move to renew downtown Los Angles, when he got a sort of twinkle in his eye and asked me to accompany him out into the backyard. Once there he guided me over to a very high circular hedge. “Check it out” he said. Take a look at what’s in there.” With no idea what to expect, I peered around the shrubbery to see a life-sized replica of a very large gorilla looking back at me. I’m not sure how I reacted, but Riordan thought it was all too funny as he nearly doubled over laughing. Not bad, Mr. Mayor, not bad…
It was on that same visit to his house when, since the tape was rolling, I decided to ask him how he wanted to be remembered. Sadly, the video is apparently lost and I have no memory of what he said. Probably that he did the best he could in bringing back the City from the Rodney King beating and the terrible destruction of the riots, followed by the Northridge Earthquake and then the O.J. Simpson trials. I can attest to his leadership in overcoming the earthquake damage, getting contractors to finish their work not just on schedule but ahead of time. I can also attest to the way banks and other businesses began returning to South Los Angeles, under the stewardship of Riordan and his business buddies, who had more than a little pull in the community.
There was more, like the need for computers at the Los Angeles Unified School District. So Riordan ponied up with the cash via his foundation. Another project he wanted was a giant pillar in the downtown area, somewhere around Bunker Hill, with an angel at the very top overlooking the City of Angels. It might have been similar to Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square, with the Admiral looking out over the City of London. But he never got that one. He was too religious in an increasingly secular world apparently. Perhaps we sometimes take ourselves too seriously? I haven’t seen the inside of a church in years, and yet I think it was an interesting idea. Considering its size, L.A., could use another landmark. But it never happened. The City of Angels, still doesn’t have its angel. But Dick Riordan, tried.
There was also the arrival of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000, even though the City had a Republican mayor. A moderate Republican, maybe one of the last, who believed in doing what was best for everybody, and not for just a few. Or for the party.
Hollywood, was also revitalized while Riordan, was mayor. I have no way of knowing how much or how little he had to do with it, but the fact is, it happened while he was mayor. Hollywood, came back from the brink of being a wasteland with the sign falling down and hookers on nearly every corner of Hollywood Boulevard. I was there. It’s not an exaggeration.
Dick Riordan, wasn’t perfect, but as has been noted elsewhere, he left the City better than he found it. And that, probably, is how he would want to be remembered. A moderate Republican who believed in the common good. A man with a smile on his face and a gorilla in the back yard. You’ve gotta go some to beat that.