Richard Riordan

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Richard Riordan
39th Mayor of Los Angeles
In office
July 1, 1993 – July 1, 2001
Preceded byTom Bradley
Succeeded byJames Hahn
Personal details
Richard Joseph Riordan

(1930-05-01)May 1, 1930
New York City, U.S.
DiedApril 19, 2023(2023-04-19) (aged 92)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Eugenia Warady
(m. 1955; ann. 1977)
Jill Noel
(m. 1980; div. 1998)
Nancy Daly
(m. 1998; died 2009)
Elizabeth Gregory
(m. 2017)
Alma mater
OccupationBusinessman, investor, military commander, philanthropist, politician
ProfessionInvestment banker, lawyer
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1952–1955
Rank First lieutenant
Battles/warsKorean War

Richard Joseph Riordan (May 1, 1930 – April 19, 2023) was an American businessman, investor, military commander, philanthropist, and politician. A decorated Korean War veteran and a member of the Republican Party, Riordan served as the 39th mayor of Los Angeles from 1993 to 2001; as of 2023, he remains the last Republican to hold that office. He ran for governor in the 2002 California gubernatorial election, losing the Republican primary. After politics, he resumed his business career, specializing in private equity.

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Riordan was born in Flushing, Queens, to an Irish-American family, the son of Geraldine (Doyle) and William O. Riordan.[1] He was the youngest of their nine children.[2] After growing up in New Rochelle, New York,[3] he first enrolled at Santa Clara University on a football scholarship, but transferred to Princeton University, where he graduated in 1952 with an A.B. in philosophy.[2] His senior thesis was titled "A Study of the Thomistic Faculty Psychology."[4] He then served in the U.S. Army as a first lieutenant during the Korean War.[2] After leaving the military, he earned a J.D. from The University of Michigan Law School in 1956.[5]

That year, he moved to Los Angeles, joining the downtown law firm of O'Melveny & Myers. In 1959, he left to become a partner of Nossaman LLP. In 1975, he was a founding partner of the law firm Riordan & McKinzie, which merged with Bingham McCutcheon in 2003.[6]

Riordan began investing in the 1950s with an $80,000 inheritance from his father, which he eventually grew into a multimillion dollar fortune.[2] In 1982, he was a founder of the private equity firm Riordan, Lewis & Haden.[7] As a philanthropist, he founded the Riordan Foundation, a charity for expanding childhood literacy.[2]

Mayor of Los Angeles[edit]

Riordan with President Bill Clinton in 1993

When Tom Bradley announced he was retiring as Mayor of Los Angeles, Riordan set his sights on the 1993 election.[2] Riordan won with 54% of the vote,[2] becoming the first Republican mayor in 36 years. As Mayor, the heavily Democratic Los Angeles City Council blocked many of his proposals, or they proved unfeasible in reality. For example, the police academy did not have enough classroom space or instructors to train as many new police officers as Riordan had initially promised. He streamlined certain business regulations and established "one-stop" centers around the city for services, like permit applications.[7]

Riordan feuded with police chief Daryl Gates' successor, former Philadelphia police commissioner Willie Williams, but oversaw a general decline in city crime. Ultimately, Riordan replaced Williams with LAPD veteran Bernard Parks in 1997, the year he was re-elected mayor over California State Senator Tom Hayden.[8]

Riordan's tenure was marked by controversy over the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Red Line subway's construction cost overruns. Because the overruns resulted in MTA funds being reallocated from bus funding, the Bus Riders Union sued the city, alleging racial discrimination, resulting in a 1996 consent decree that eviscerated MTA funding for subway and light rail construction projects. Riordan publicly stated that he regretted signing the consent decree and it was his biggest mistake as mayor.[9]

Before becoming mayor, Riordan spearheaded the city's successful term limit ballot initiative and he was therefore term-limited from office in 2001. Riordan endorsed his adviser and friend, Steve Soboroff, to succeed him. Soboroff, however, came in third in the non-partisan mayoral primary election. Former California State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa advanced to the runoff against James Hahn. Riordan endorsed Villaraigosa in the second round, but Hahn won and succeeded him as mayor. Four years later, Villaraigosa defeated Hahn in the 2005 rematch and became Mayor.[10]

2002 California gubernatorial race[edit]

In 2002, Riordan decided to seek the governorship. In the Republican primary election, he faced conservative businessman Bill Simon and former California Secretary of State Bill Jones. Although Riordan had a 30-point lead early in the race, Simon beat him by 18 points. Riordan's loss mainly can be attributed to a conservative Republican party base that rejected his moderate Republicanism and efforts to move the party to the political center.[11] Incumbent Democratic Governor Gray Davis felt he had a much better chance to beat Simon, so he spent millions of dollars running attack ads against Riordan in the Republican primary. Davis's cross-party strategy was successful. Riordan lost the primary, and Davis defeated Simon 47%–42% in the general election.[12]

The Los Angeles Examiner[edit]

In early 2003, Riordan circulated a prototype of a locally-focused, sophisticated, and politically-independent weekly newspaper, The Los Angeles Examiner, he hoped to start publishing in June.[13] It was, however, never published. Riordan put the project on hold when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who defeated Grey Davis in the October 2003 recall election, appointed him California Secretary of Education. He served in the position from 2003 until he resigned in 2005.[14]

Later political involvement[edit]

Riordan continued to be involved in city politics after his mayoralty. In the 2001 Los Angeles mayoral election, Riordan endorsed his friend and adviser Steve Soboroff in the primary and Antonio Villaraigosa in the general election.[15][16] In 2005, he backed former State Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg in the primary and Antonio Villaraigosa in the general election.[17][18] In both races, he chose not to endorse James Hahn.[19]

Riordan played a role in City Council elections, supporting Bill Rosendahl, who won election in the Eleventh District in 2005; Monica Rodriguez, who lost to Seventh District Councilman Richard Alarcon in 2007; and Adeena Bleich, who lost to Paul Koretz and David Vahedi, who advanced to the runoff election. In 2013, Riordan endorsed Wendy Greuel for mayor. She ultimately was defeated by then-Council member Eric Garcetti.[20]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

The Richard J. Riordan Central Library in Los Angeles is named after him.[21] Riordan owned the Original Pantry Cafe, which has operated in Los Angeles since 1924, and Gladstones Malibu, which has been open since 1972.[22][23][24]

Riordan was married four times and had five children, two of whom predeceased him.[7][25] He died at home in Brentwood on April 19, 2023, at age 92.[7]


  1. ^ The Nassau Herald. Princeton University. 1952. Retrieved April 21, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Hafner, Katie (April 21, 2023). "Richard Riordan, Mayor of an Uneasy Los Angeles, Dies at 92". The New York Times. p. A24. Retrieved April 21, 2023.
  3. ^ Bonfante, Jordan (June 21, 1993). "Hizzoner the CEO L.A.'s New Mayor Is a Manager in The Perot Mold". Time. Los Angeles. Retrieved November 7, 2015.(subscription required)
  4. ^ Riordan, Richard Joseph (1952). "A Study of the Thomistic Faculty Psychology".
  5. ^ "U.S. History: Biographies – Richard J Riordan". Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  6. ^ "Riordan & McKinzie merges with Boston firm". Retrieved April 25, 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d Merl, Jean (April 19, 2023). "Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan dies at 92". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 20, 2023.
  8. ^ "4/22/97 Primary Nominating Election: Final – Official Results". Los Angeles City Clerk Election Archives. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  9. ^ Mascaro, Lisa (April 24, 2005). "MTA consent decree drives different reactions in L.A." The City Project Blog. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  10. ^ "Hahn, Villaraigosa to fight rematch in L.A. mayoral runoff". East Bay Times. March 10, 2005. Retrieved October 6, 2022.
  11. ^ Wildermuth, John (March 6, 2002). "SIMON WINS BIG / Riordan's collapse sets up showdown for governor between GOP neophyte, Davis". SFGate. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  12. ^ "General Election – Statement of Vote, November 5, 2002". California Secretary of State. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  13. ^ Wood, Daniel B. (January 30, 2003). "In L.A., a new tabloid from its ex-mayor". The Christian Science Monitor. San Bernardino, CA. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  14. ^ Roderick, Kevin (November 8, 2003). "Next week in the LABJ (L.A. Business Journal)". L.A. Observed. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  15. ^ Markazi, Arash (September 3, 2015). "Steve Soboroff's famous typewriter collection has many stories to tell". ABC News. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  16. ^ "Hahn Elected L.A. Mayor". ABC News. June 6, 2001. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  17. ^ R. Blood, Michael (April 11, 2005). "Villaraigosa woos blacks in L.A. election". NBC News. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  18. ^ "Jewish Candidate Barely Misses in Election for L.a. Mayoral Runoff". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. March 10, 2005. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  19. ^ "Former L.A. mayor backs challenger". East Bay Times. April 2, 2005. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  20. ^ Linthicum, Kate; Zahniser, David (March 20, 2013). "Richard Riordan backs Wendy Greuel for L.A. mayor". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  21. ^ "Former LA Mayor Richard Riordan to be honored at memorial Mass on Friday". ABC7 Los Angeles. April 25, 2023. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  22. ^ Hafner, Katie (April 20, 2023). "Richard Riordan, Mayor of an Uneasy Los Angeles, Dies at 92". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  23. ^ Barnes, Mike (April 20, 2023). "Richard Riordan, Former Mayor of Los Angeles, Dies at 92". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  24. ^ Chen, I-Chun (August 11, 2016). "Gladstones restaurant in Malibu to close after 44 years". The Business Journals. Retrieved April 26, 2023.
  25. ^ Clifford, Frank (July 11, 1993). "Mystery Mayor : He's Got 40,000 Books, Friends All Over Town, and a Reputation as a Soft Touch. He's a Risk-Taker and Problem Solver. Yet He Can Be Absent-Minded, Inarticulate, Contradictory and Downright Sloppy. Can a Entrepeneur-Turned-Politican [sic] Lead L.A.?". The Los Angeles Times.

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