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Riordan: 'Goofy' or a Mr. Fixit?

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He owns 40,000 books, quotes Martin Buber and Samuel Goldwyn, and hangs out regularly with comedians such as Jonathan Winters and Tim Conway.

He is an avid bicyclist, is happiest when surrounded by kids, and eats peanut-butter sandwiches with lettuce and tomato, followed by a pint of chocolate ice cream - out of the container.

He has a chapel and a trampoline in his backyard.

His name is Richard Riordan and he will, by all accounts, be the leading Republican contender for governor in the special election recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Mr. Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, is expected to formally announce his candidacy now that Arnold Schwarzenegger seems unlikely to run. (The actor is to announce his decision Wednesday night when he appears on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.)

Fans of Riordan say he is so passionate about politics that he becomes nearly giddy over phrases such as "public duty." But 73-year-old Riordan will have to convince voters that he still has the drive, vision, and tough hide to tackle one of the toughest public offices in the land.

California is, after all, notorious for taxing even the most resilient leaders - former governors Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, and Pete Wilson all suffered dramatic popularity drops while in office. Another question is whether Riordan can win in a state that distrusts the city of Los Angeles in many ways.

If Riordan enters the race, he won't have much time to campaign. The election is scheduled for October 7, though Governor Davis was expected to ask the California Supreme Court to delay the vote to March 2004.

It was a decade ago that Riordan ran for Los Angeles mayor with no political experience with the slogan, "tough enough to turn L.A. around." By most accounts, he held the reins during one of the city's toughest decades - riots, earthquakes, and police scandals - and left it in better shape than when he came in. (Riordan's critics credit the greatest economic expansion in US history.)

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