LOS ANGELES—Funeral services were pending April 20 for Richard Riordan, the venture capitalist who was Los Angeles’s mayor from 1993–2001 and faced the challenges of rebuilding the city—first from the Rodney King riots, then the Northridge earthquake.
Riordan “passed peacefully this evening at his home in Brentwood, surrounded by his wife Elizabeth, family, friends, and precious pet dogs,” his family announced April 19 night. Riordan was 92.
Riordan, the only Republican to hold the nonpartisan position since 1961, when Norris Poulson lost a bid for a third term, was elected in 1993, succeeding Tom Bradley, who held the position for a record 20 years.
Riordan 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 Richard Riordan loved Los Angeles, and devoted so much of himself to bettering our city,” Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement. “He always had a place in his heart for the children of L.A., and worked to improve how the city served our youth and communities as a passionate member of the Los Angeles Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners.
“Mayor Riordan’s legacy includes our city’s iconic Central Library, which he saved and rebuilt, and which today carries his name.
“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.”
Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian said Riordan loved Los Angeles and his contributions to the city were extraordinary and lasting.
“When the city was devastated by the Northridge earthquake he threw every ounce of his energy and managerial skill into the city’s recovery, and vital infrastructure was rebuilt in record time,” Krekorian said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
Riordan was also instrumental in leading the drive for city charter reform that created the neighborhood council system, Krekorian said.
“The conflicts of that era resisted easy resolution, but Mayor Riordan always aimed for progress, not perfection, and in the Riordan years the city saw very real progress,” 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 incurred by 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 statement.
“He was instrumental in working with County Supervisor Gloria Molina in acquiring the property on Temple Street between Grand Avenue and Hill Street. As he did with all major construction in the city during his eight years, he streamlined the process for permits and inspections which shortened the construction time. Both of them were key to the successful construction and dedication of our new cathedral.”
Mahony also recalled Riordan as a champion of Catholic education who helped found the Catholic Education Foundation in 1987. Thursday, more than 10,000 grants a year are made through that organization to families who could not otherwise afford tuition, according to the archdiocese.
“Dick Riordan was an Irish Catholic exuding the charm, creativity, and energy which led him ‘to raise our wings and soar,’” Mahony said. “He loved new ideas, he was passionate about moving beyond the past ways and methods, and he was bold in engaging in any new idea or plan which would help people across the city. … His legacies span an enormous spectrum of commitment to serving all people and their communities in every way possible.”
Other City Officials
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Michel Moore wrote on Twitter, “LAPD joins all of Los Angeles in extending condolences to the family of Mayor Richard Riordan. Mayor Riordan loved Los Angeles & believed in the men & women of LAPD. His Public Safety Initiative rebuilt the Department with critical staffing & technology. May God welcome him home.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn said Riordan was the right mayor at the right time for L.A.
“He led us through challenging times and championed charter reforms that made our city better. I am grateful I could celebrate his 92nd birthday with him last year and thank him for everything he did for our city,” Hahn posted on Twitter.
City Councilman Tim McOsker said he worked with Riordan while serving as a deputy city attorney, calling him “passionate, determined, and tough.”
“He knew charter reform was necessary and I was honored to be among those who worked to pass needed reforms and create a more accountable and efficient city government, including creating a citywide network of neighborhood councils to encourage community participation,” McOsker said in a statement. “Even in disagreement over policy, Mayor Riordan and the city family had the same goal of making Los Angeles a better place.”
Former Police Chief and L.A. City Councilman Bernard C. Parks said in a statement, “Today, we find ourselves without the man who was our compass during the very many challenges of the 90s.”
Parks, who was appointed chief by Riordan in 1997, added, “Mr. Mayor, your unbending strength inspired me. And, your faith in me changed my life forever.”
Of His Life
Riordan was born May 1, 1930, and grew up in New Rochelle, New York. He was the youngest of eight children in an Irish Catholic family. He told the Los Angeles Times one of his most vivid Depression childhood memories was seeing unemployed men coming to the family’s back door in search of food or work. He attended an all-male Jesuit prep school where both neckties and Latin were mandatory.
He attended Santa Clara University, where he played on the football team. After two years at Santa Clara, he transferred to Princeton. Following his time at Princeton, he served in the Army in Korea and graduated first in his class at the University of Michigan Law School.
Riordan married Eugenia “Genie” Warady at a resort in New York and moved to Southern California. They had five children and he built a law practice, eventually founding Riordan & McKinzie.
He emerged as a political player in the 1980s, lending $300,000 to Tom Bradley’s campaign for governor and serving on the city’s Coliseum and Recreation and Parks commissions. He also helped lead a successful campaign to oust state Supreme Court Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird in 1986.
Two of Riordan’s children died during his rise in political circles. Billy, his only son, died in a scuba diving accident off the East Coast days before his 22nd birthday. His daughter Carol died from complications of an eating disorder when she was 19.
Riordan was married four times. He was married to Genie Riordan for 23 years before the marriage was annulled by the Catholic church. He married Jill Noel in 1990, children’s activist Nancy Daly in 1998, and Elizabeth Gregory, then head of admissions at Harvard-Westlake School, in 2017.
Riordan is survived by his 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.