Bad news for LAUSD's underserved schoolchildren, good news for the dirty politicians of West Hollywood: Award-winning LA Weekly reporter Patrick Range McDonald will be taking the next six months off for a private commission.
McDonald was approached by Richard Riordan — the controversial, but never dull, Republican mayor of Los Angeles between 1993 and 2001, now in his early 80s — about possibly ghostwriting his memoirs, after the two had been in contact, re: a story on the race for L.A. mayor, 2013. McDonald accepted.
“It's going to take a serious look at his life,” says McDonald, the L.A. Press Club's Journalist of the Year for 2010. “He knows a lot of people, and he's been through a lot of different things — and he's done well for himself.”
Indeed. LA Weekly news editor Jill Stewart wrote the following of Riordan in a 2009 “People” profile:
Today nearing 79, the hazel-eyed, deeply wrinkled restaurateur, philanthropist and multimillionaire looks older, the happy victim of thousands of hours spent on a bicycle under the blistering L.A. sun. Despite absurd rumors five years ago that he was in poor mental health — he blames the ugly smear on a particularly vicious Gray Davis operative — Riordan is as smart and incorrigible as ever.
The graduate class he teaches on leadership and ethics at UCLA is crammed with students (“twice as many as last year”), and his circle of friends is beyond intriguing. Last Christmas, Riordan invited the Somali-Dutch feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali to his storied Sun Valley getaway, and he and Clint Eastwood threw an ice-skating party. At one point, Riordan noticed a familiar face being turned away by security guards — Bruce Springsteen, who “wasn't on the list.” Riordan asked the Springsteen family to join the skating shindig, and now the rocker is “a friend.”
But, Stewart noted, his personal eccentricities have nothing on his political energy.
Riordan has been widely criticized for his tendency to ditch policy and procedure for a rough, renegade “shake things up” approach — running red lights and throwing millions at the charter-school movement, in hopes of sneaking up on the district's status-quo inadequacies from behind. One of his biggest achievements as mayor was installing the first-ever reformist school board, then reverting from LAUSD's trendy, flimsy “whole language” teaching method back to sounding things out with Phonics. Test scores immediately began to climb.
The former mayor's rich, cocky whiteness made him an unlikely advocate for children stuck in the achievement gap — but he was all the more effective for it. Current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has a more sleepy, plodding approach, caught up in ribbon-cuttings and sappy speeches. Riordan may have succeeded in offending half the city, but that's only because he was getting things done, his way.
Says McDonald: “Some people may wonder, because I'm a liberal Democrat openly gay man, why am I helping to write a memoir about a Republican? But Riordan has always been strongly in favor — going back years — of gay rights and gay marriage.”
McDonald, who won Journalist of the Year partly based on”Educating Maria,” a story about educating the children of illegal immigrants, believes Riordan has “a sincere concern for the poor, and — very much so — poor kids, and making sure that they get a good education.”
Overall, “his stands on lots of issues have been largely liberal,” says McDonald, “and that's why I'm comfortable working with him.”
We the cubicle people will sure miss him around here in the meantime, but given the way he handles a tabloid, we can't wait to see what he can do with a hardbound.