Two-term Mayor of Los Angeles Richard Riordan “passed peacefully this evening at his home in Brentwood, surrounded by his wife Elizabeth, family, friends and precious pet dogs,” according to a family statement released Wednesday night. He was 92.
Los Angeles landmarks, including City Hall, will be lit tonight in the green, yellow and red colors of the city flag in honor of Riordan.
The announcement Thursday by Mayor Karen Bass was just the latest in an outpouring of tributes to Riordan, a venture capitalist who was mayor from 1993-2001, and who faced the challenges of rebuilding the city, first from the Rodney King riots and then the Northridge earthquake.
In addition to City Hall, L.A. landmarks that will be illuminated in the city color’s Thursday night include the Richard J. Riordan Central Library, the LAX pylons, the L.A. Zoo and the 6th Street Bridge.
The lightings are “to commemorate Mayor Richard Riordan’s service to the people of Los Angeles,” Bass’ office said.
Riodan, the only Republican to hold the nonpartisan position since 1961, was elected in 1993, succeeding Tom Bradley, who held the position for a record 20 years.
He took office slightly more than a year after the rioting that followed the verdict in the state trial of the Los Angeles Police Department officers accused in the beating of motorist Rodney King, then had another challenge to face in his first year in office — the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
“Mayor Riordan’s legacy includes our city’s iconic Central Library which he saved and rebuilt, and which today carries his name,” said Bass. He also put his stamp on two other city institutions: The Original Pantry, Downtown and Gladstones, in Malibu, both of which he owned.
The onetime lawyer founded private equity firm Riordan, Lewis & Haden with Chris Lewis and former USC quarterback Pat Haden in 1982. The trio funded the firm themselves before, in the late nineties, turning to institutional investors, from whom they raised more than a billion dollars over the next two decades.
In 2002, Riordan ran for governor, but was defeated in the primary by Bill Simon, who himself was defeated by incumbent Democrat Gray Davis. Shortly thereafter, he announced his intention to launch a weekly tabloid newspaper called the Los Angeles Examiner (a hat tip to the publication founded by William Randolph Hearst in 1903, which ceased to exist in 1989). There was a 52-page prototype and Riordan was reportedly pouring $5 million of his own money into the launch. But public service called again when his friend and then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had bested Davis in the October 2003 recall election, appointed Riordan Secretary of Education. He served in the position from 2003 until he resigned in 2005.
But it was as L.A.’s mayor that Riordan made his largest impact.
“In the wake of the Northridge earthquake, Mayor Riordan set the standard for emergency action. He reassured us and delivered a response with an intensity that still pushes us all to be faster and stronger amidst crisis,” said Bass.
Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian said Riordan “threw every ounce of his energy and managerial skill into the city’s recovery, and vital infrastructure was rebuilt in record time. Nowhere is his impact more visible than in downtown Los Angeles.
“He drove the long-delayed completion of Disney Concert Hall, presided over the restoration of City Hall, and rebuilt a library system that had been ravaged by budget cuts and the catastrophic Central Library fire.” Riordan was also instrumental in leading the drive for city charter reform that created the neighborhood council system, Krekorian said.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, recalled Riordan’s key role in the construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels beginning in 1998, following the severe damage to its predecessor, the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, in the Northridge quake.
“He not only rallied the private sector to assist in rebuilding the I-10 freeway and other buildings, but he also assisted us when the city red- tagged the former St. Vibiana’s Cathedral in downtown,” Mahony said in a
Riordan married Eugenia “Genie” Warady at a resort in New York and moved to Southern California. They had five children, two of whom predeceased him. He was married three more times.
The former mayor is survived by his current wife; three children, Mary Elizabeth Riordan, Kathleen Ann Riordan and Patricia Riordan Torrey; three grandchildren, Luca, Jessica and Elizabeth; and a sister, Mary Elizabeth Riordan Hearty.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
City News Service contributed to this story.