LOS ANGELES — Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan officially entered the California governor’s race Tuesday, joining two other major contenders for the Republican nomination to try to unseat Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
“I’m running for governor for a very simple reason — I love California,” Riordan, 71, said at a red-white-and-blue rally at Olvera Street, the historical center of the city, a site chosen to emphasize the candidate’s commitment to diversity.
Riordan was introduced by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who earlier this year contemplated his own run for the Republican nomination.
“Dick is a man of action, and I can tell you all about action because I was the action hero,” Schwarzenegger said.
A Field Poll in September showed Riordan roughly even with Davis but ahead of his two likely Republican rivals in the March primary.
Riordan ignored his Republican opponents in his kickoff speech, instead sharply accusing Davis of plunging the budget into deficit and failing to deliver on education, health care, and energy.
“A dark cloud has settled over our state,” Riordan said. “Why? Because we have a governor who cares more about building up his campaign war chest than preparing our state to face the challenges of the future.”
The rally was the first stop on a two-day state tour that will take Riordan to the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento Wednesday. The second stop was a math and science charter school in San Diego, where students quizzed Riordan on issues including Davis’ decision to issue a warning last week about possible terrorist attacks on state bridges.
The FBI concluded Tuesday that the intelligence behind the warning was not credible, but Riordan declined to question Davis’ decision.
“He is the governor of this state and it would be wrong to undercut him in this crisis,” Riordan said.
Riordan was mayor of the nation’s second-largest city for eight years until term limits prevented him from seeking a third term this year.
A wealthy lawyer and venture capitalist who had never previously held public office, he focused on making the city more business friendly and its bureaucracy more businesslike. He was praised for helping elect reformers to the school board and for his response to the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake, but criticized for rocky relations with the City Council and for failing to oversee meaningful police reforms.
A social moderate who supports gun control and abortion, Riordan frequently backed Democratic candidates and employed Democrats as consultants and aides during his years in the nonpartisan mayor’s office.
He has made about $1 million in donations and loans to Democratic campaigns over the past 20 years and about $660,000 to Republicans, according to spokeswoman Carolina Guevara.
Republican opponent Secretary of State Bill Jones, a Fresno farmer, has seized on that record to raise questions about whether Riordan is a committed Republican.
“Based on what I heard his comments to be it sounds like he’s pretty much ignoring the Republican primary, and I think that’s a mistake,” Jones said after Riordan’s announcement. “You can’t get to home plate without going around the bases, and I think he’s ignoring first base.”
The third major Republican candidate is conservative Los Angeles businessman Bill Simon, whom Riordan encouraged to run before he decided to get in the race himself.
Davis’ advisers have attacked Riordan as unprepared for statewide office, but the governor declined to engage him prematurely.
“Look, it’s a free country, anyone can run for governor, but ultimately the public will have their say a year from now,” Davis said Monday.