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Thursday, Sep 21, 2023


HOWARD FINE Staff Reporter With yet another round of staff changes this month, L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan is struggling to keep his administration from foundering as it enters the home stretch. Several of the mayor’s major initiatives from the expansion of L.A. International Airport to an attempt to revamp the L.A. school board have either stalled or have been bungled. His relations with the City Council are at a low ebb. Riordan had hoped that making former Business Team chief Lesa Slaughter his new chief of staff would help revive his office. But after just three months Slaughter was fired, and this month Riordan threw his dice again on insider Kelly Martin, who becomes his fifth chief of staff in five years. How did the mayor’s office get this chaotic? And what does the turmoil say about his ability to lead the city? Conversations with several City Hall insiders, ex-Riordan staffers and outside political observers paint a picture of a mayor who after five years in office still clings to his experience as a businessman and venture capitalist. “Riordan’s style is much more entrepreneurial and less how a bureaucrat typically operates,” said Richard Lichtenstein, president of L.A.-based Marathon Communications. As part of this entrepreneurial approach, observers say, the mayor is quick to advance a prospect he likes and trusts, like Slaughter, but is just as quick to drop that “investment” if his expectations aren’t met. These observers say Riordan also likes to give his staff plenty of leeway to carry out their missions. While this approach avoids micro-management and forces staff members to be more accountable, in some cases as with Slaughter it means they sink or swim largely on their own. Above all, observers say, what matters to Riordan most is results. With an often-hostile City Council and a huge bureaucracy that is slow to change, the premium on results is summed up by this mantra: Better to ask forgiveness than to seek permission. The key to success in this kind of environment is being able to make things happen, according to William Ouchi, the UCLA Anderson School of Management dean who served as Riordan’s chief of staff from 1994 to 1995. “If you don’t make things happen, he’s going to be all over you,” Ouchi said. That’s part of what happened to Slaughter following the series of missteps and blunders that plagued Riordan this summer, according to City Hall insiders and others familiar with the situation. Neither Slaughter nor Riordan returned calls seeking comment for this article. Aides said Riordan left town after announcing Martin as his new chief of staff. Martin said neither she nor anyone else in the Riordan administration would answer questions concerning Slaughter’s departure. However, sources said that once Riordan became frustrated with Slaughter’s performance, he tried to ease her out of the post. But word of that intended move leaked out and Slaughter was abruptly fired on Oct. 2. Riordan moved quickly to fill the chief of staff spot with Martin, who many felt should have gotten the post in June. Martin, 38, first met Riordan while she was a partner specializing in corporate finance at his law firm, Riordan & McKinzie. She initially joined the Riordan administration in 1993 as deputy mayor for economic development. She then took a two-year hiatus to accept a job as vice president and general counsel of Merisel Inc., an El Segundo-based computer software company. She rejoined the Riordan team in January 1997 as deputy mayor for finance and policy. As with Slaughter, Martin has impressed Riordan with her ability to get things done, City Hall observers said. One of those accomplishments was pushing through an initiative that tightens regulation of slum housing in the city. The question, though, is whether she can move the Riordan agenda forward. She will not have nearly as much time to acquaint herself with the post as Slaughter did. In just two weeks, Riordan is due to go to Kansas City to make a pitch on behalf of the New Coliseum Partners’ bid to win a National Football League franchise to put in a renovated Coliseum. And, in the next few weeks, the final charter reform proposals are due to be released. With only two more years in office, both these issues along with the LAX expansion and construction of the Alameda Corridor could form a large part of the Riordan legacy.

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