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California Dreamin’

Photo by Robert Yager

This memo mysteriously appeared in my mailbox:

Confidential: For your eyes only

July 9, 2001

To: Dick Riordan

From: Bill Wardlaw

Re: Your Gubernatorial Campaign

I thought hard about the message you left me last Friday, about coming back to put together your gubernatorial campaign. I decided it best to answer you in writing. This is complicated and I want to be precise. After all the years we have spent together, it was painful to find ourselves on different sides in the just-concluded city election. If we’re going to patch things up, we have to be 100 percent honest.

So first off, I have to say, I told you so. You picked two losers, pal, and I headed the winning Hahn campaign. As I warned you, Soboroff never had a chance. And, hell, after we got you elected in ’93 on the preposterous notion that you were “tough enough to turn L.A. around,” wasn’t it just a bit obvious that Jimmy and I would hose Antonio on crime?

But enough of the past. Let’s talk about Riordan for Governor. I know you’re eating up all the attention you’ve been getting. But you and I also know that what David Friedman wrote in last week’s Times about your “profound” legacy was claptrap. (Does he polish your apples for free, or is he actually on your payroll?) You saw the latest polls, Dick. As soon as you started campaigning, your numbers began to fall. Always a sign that something is off in the cognizant perceptions of your image. And I’ve no intention of working on a losing campaign. So it’s my way or no way.

Here’s how I see the terrain:

Your Republican rivals: Two jokes. Secretary of State Bill Who? Gray would wipe the floor with Jones — a guy with a zero personality index. And then there’s the other Bill. Simon’s deep pockets and delusionary vanity make him little more than a retirement plan for whichever consultant is quick enough to glom onto him. Looks like Sal Russo has got dibs. You may not be the brightest ornament on the tree, but Bill Simon? After he lobbied the state’s GOP congressional delegation two weeks ago, 16 of them came out for you! Enough said. You’ve got a lock on the Republican nod. This is about beating Gray Davis.

 

Gray’s vulnerabilities and yours:

Energy crisis: If you’re lucky, it will be one long, hot summer and the lights will still be blacking out into the seventh game of the World Series. Even if electricity prices continue to drop, Gray pays a political price and teases out some of the latent negatives he’s been accumulating. He has dithered on solutions and has played patty cake with Edison. He holds on to his base under any conditions. But marginal voters could stray. His soft support could go dark — no pun intended.

But you’re no better off. Start attacking him and Garry South is going to be writing a spot reminding the voters how you wanted to privatize the DWP. Thank God you failed. But the record stands. And talk about dithering. How about LAPD reform? Forget about it.

Education: Remember Gray’s special legislative session on school reform? I know you’ve been having trouble recently with short-term memory — but don’t worry. No one else remembers that either. But again, he’s not vulnerable to you on that issue. What do you have to show as an education legacy? Caprice Young as board president? It hurts too much to laugh.

Special interests: Same story here, Dick. You can go after Gray for hiring on Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane as spinmeisters while they were still on Edison’s payroll. But hit him for catering to special interests and you, my friend, will be pilloried as actually being the special interest. (By the way, I heard that while it was in a blind trust the last eight years, your nest egg grew from $100 million to $250 million. Are you going back into high tech? Any tips?)

Dick, the list of tit for tat continues. Gray is detached and remote — even from the state Dems. Just like you and the City Council. State enforcement of labor law is hitting new lows. But you originally opposed the living wage and railed against “poverty pimps.”

Even on crime, you’re impotent against Gray. Christ, have you seen his zeal for the death penalty? Like he wants to get in there and strangle these guys personally. And no parole — for anybody. No way we would be able to “Antonio” him!

 

A modest proposal:

My conclusion: The Red Meat Republicans think you’re a Democratic pantywaist and won’t lift a finger for you. So you can scratch Orange County. The Democratic saps in the Bay Area think Gray is a “liberal” and would walk the plank for him. Your endorsements couldn’t carry L.A. last month.

And Dubya’s endorsement of you could be the kiss of death. By the time this campaign heats up a year from now, and the country notices that the budget surplus has disappeared, his numbers could be less than half his IQ — somewhere deep into the low 40s. (I sometimes think that all this focus on Cheney’s coronary crisis is a cheap Republican plot to convince the voters that at least someone in this administration has a heart.)

Most important, Dick, you can not run to the right of Gray Davis. It’s a physical impossibility. You’re dead before you start.

Unless . . . unless you will entertain my modest proposal. You have (clumsily) tried to position yourself as the “moderate” Republican: the guy who can manage diverse Los Angeles. As the only Republican who can coexist with Big Labor. (Even I have to admire the way you suckered the unions on Staples Center and the Trizec-Hahn boondoggles.) You’re the guy who loves Latinos and endorses Villaraigosa and gives away computers to inner-city schools. Yada yada yada.

Great. So why not go all the way. Why not position yourself not only as the most liberal Republican — but also as the most liberal gubernatorial candidate? That’s right. In the one-party state of California, why not outflank Gray Davis on the populist left! It’s not like you’d have to move very far at all. And the Republicans can’t stop you. They have ceased to exist as a state party. Start talking about bringing that Latino-labor alliance to statewide power. About bringing an L.A.-style living wage (which Hizzoner eventually signed) to all of California. About seizing the recalcitrant energy monopolies and giving the state the sort of municipal power embodied by L.A.’s glorious DWP. You get the drift.

I know this is a shock and a stretch for you. If you go with this idea, we would not only have to flesh out the programmatic details, but we’d have to shape a whole new public image for you. Hell, we didn’t do half bad in ’93 and ’97 when we morphed you from a junk-bond arbitrage artist into a roll-up-your-sleeves philanthropist. And this time around, you’d have to study up in some new areas for you, like civil rights and workplace rights, the environment, and campaign-finance reform — but if you set your mind to it, you’d get it all down pat.

Take a week and let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’ll run this by Eli and Ron — though they may be married to Gray. And start thinking about a running mate. Johnny Burton? Harvey Rosenfield?

Yours,

Bill

P.S. When people talk about the Central Valley, they don’t mean Van Nuys. And enough already with the Bakersfield jokes.