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L.A. Mayor's Early Obstacles: Budgets, Bureaucrats, Syrup

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TOUSLED but on time, Richard Riordan steps into a favorite breakfast hangout for Hollywood types wearing a bright silk tie painted with a happy-face sun and stick figures of kids.

The Republican millionaire businessman took office here July 1 after the first wide-open mayoral election in 20 years.

Glad-handing his way past customers to a back booth where a reporter waits, he sits down to a 40-minute test of his storied, problem-solving mind: how to distill his first 100 days in office and look articulate while eating a stack of syrup-doused pancakes.

``I inherited a city that hadn't been managed properly in five to 10 years,'' says the man who promised to cut waste, bureaucracy, and nonsense at City Hall.

He continues, ``There was a vacuum filled with lobbyists and special interests used to getting their way. The city council took over niches here and there and was usurping control of various [mayoral] departments.''

The fight to retake lost ground has consumed the mayor's honeymoon.

Besides winning high marks for getting out into neighborhoods, Mr. Riordan has been touring city facilities, meeting with the general managers of city operations, and attempting to streamline departments from parks and recreation to garbage collection.

He has appointed five deputy mayors, reduced the budget for the mayor's office, and called for the phasing out of full-time paid commissioners of the Board of Public Works. He has appointed new commissioners and nearly a dozen task forces with search-and-destroy missions on waste.

``It's a pretty conservative bunch,'' says Larry Berg, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. ``His appointees hit all the right demographics, but you don't find a lot of diversity in their views, which is what he promised.''

One of Riordan's first actions in office has been to take a scythe to the city budget. He has just submitted plans to cut $51 million from the current budget, and more cuts are on the way. ``Between now and next July 1, we are going to have to cut $250 million more,'' he says of the city's discretionary spending allowance of about $4 billion.

Now Riordan must reconcile his budget-cutting fervor with his campaign pledges to make the city more business friendly and to put thousands more police officers on the street.


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