By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Former California Governor Jerry Brown, who invented Gray Davis, has a great saying about politics: “A little vagueness goes a long way in this business.” That‘s something that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, the latest aspirant for the state’s highest office, seems to have taken very much to heart.
Here‘s Riordan, who has offered next to nothing on California’s epic energy crisis, its ballooning budget crisis or any other pressing issue of the time, actually running ahead of the Democratic incumbent. The leveraged buyout artist--turned--super-rich ex-mayor and European summer cyclist has managed to get through more than five months of high-profile “exploration” without saying much of anything about the new job he wants. But, even though he leads Davis by three points in the Field Poll and eight points in a private poll, that will change.
Riordan is declaring his candidacy on November 6 at a Beverly Hills fund-raising dinner. It remains to be seen if he and his fledgling campaign are ready for the big stage.
In the past few weeks, four Republican operatives have left Riordan‘s team. The departed include Dan Schnur, the director of his campaign committee and Pete Wilson’s communications director; Fiona Hutton, his deputy director; Arnold Steinberg, longtime pollster and strategist; and Bill Whelan, top speechwriter. Several big-name Democratic operatives are onboard, leading to wild charges from primary opponents Bill Jones and Bill Simon, both of whom trail badly. Some say that Riordan‘s wife, Nancy Daly, the former first lady of Warner Bros., is really in charge and that Riordan is really a Democrat in disguise.
Riordan is taking on Davis at a particularly weak moment in the governor’s reign. Top Democrats say his fund-raising has fallen off. The energy situation and the state budget -- once again intertwined -- are big messes. Public Utilities Commission chief Loretta Lynch and Power Authority chairman David Freeman are at loggerheads. Davis senior adviser Nancy McFadden, a former top Al Gore aide who helps run the Governor‘s Office and works on energy issues, has been rumored for some time to be leaving in a few months, though a Davis spokesman denies it.
Even the Bush administration is coming through for Riordan. Riordan, Jones and Simon were to speak at last weekend’s state Republican convention, but sources say that Gerald Parsky, the Los Angeles billionaire who chaired the Bush campaign in California and is the White House designee to oversee the fractious state party, intervened to stop the speeches. Why? Because Jones was going to trash Riordan before the assembled faithful as a closet Democrat, using material he rolled out last week at a Sacramento Press Club appearance showing that Riordan has given far more money to Democrats than to Republicans.
It was a good break for Riordan, who is still struggling with the latest iteration of his own organization. It‘s said by many observers that his campaign manager, when one is in place, will be guided by a council of seasoned political advisers, including former Kathleen Brown campaign manager Clint Reilly, Jimmy Carter pollster--turned-- West Wing producer Pat Caddell, and Michael Dukakis campaign manager-- turned--USC law professor Susan Estrich.
GOP media consultant Don Sipple, who left the Bob Dole campaign in the midst of charges that he had beaten his ex-wives and, before that, having upset Latinos with his pro--Proposition 187 work for Pete Wilson, is on board for Riordan, sources say, at the behest of Orange County real estate billionaire Donald Bren.
He and Reilly, a controversial former Democratic consultant and losing 1999 San Francisco mayoral candidate, are the two dominant minds in the Riordan operation. Reilly, who ran Riordan’s 1993 mayoral campaign, is said by a Riordan friend to have “a Svengali hold” on the former mayor and his wife.
Sacramento consultant Kevin Spillane, an early Riordan booster who was a top aide to Silicon Valley moderate Tom Campbell, is the campaign‘s political director. Current chairman Rick Hernandez, a businessman and former L.A. police commissioner, is said to have been elbowed aside by Reilly. The campaign manager hasn’t been announced, but the leading choice is said to be Ron Hartwig, an executive of the Hill & Knowlton public-relations firm, a relative unknown in statewide political circles who gets along well with the Riordans. Other top aides include former mayoral aide Carolina Guevara and two conservatives, new Riordan policy director Joel Fox, former head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and research director Joe Rodota, a former top Wilson aide known as “Dr. Death” for his penchant for punishing opposition research.
Longtime state Democratic Party honcho Bob Mulholland turns even more waspish than usual in describing Riordan‘s Democratic advisers: “Reilly ran Kathleen Brown’s campaign into the ground; Caddell is a professional anti-Democrat, the guy who came up with ”New Coke“; Estrich told Michael Dukakis the flag wasn‘t an issue. Now they’re crowding the bridge of the Titanic.”
Spillane, a Republican looking at a primary election, tends to minimize the roles of the name Democrats. In fact, he says, they will be working independently as “Democrats for Riordan,” along with Disney executive John Cook and others.