Apathy wins Los Angeles a Republican mayor: Another disappointment for Clinton as minority turnout and support by whites hand victory to self-made millionaire

NEARLY 14 months after it exploded into riots, the multi-ethnic and Democratic city of Los Angeles awoke yesterday morning to discover that a minority had elected a Republican self- made multi-millionaire as mayor.

An estimated third of the electorate voted, delivering victory to Richard Riordan, a 63-year-old investor and lawyer who spent dollars 6m ( pounds 4m) of his personal fortune in his campaign to lead the divided, volatile city.

His triumph represents another disappointment for the beleaguered President Clinton, who endorsed his opponent, Michael Woo, a Chinese-American city councillor with a strong multi- racial following, even though the mayoral race was technically non-partisan.

Mr Riordan, an Irish-American, was an unknown six months ago, but lavished money on a campaign which built a rump of support in the white, conservative-leaning suburbs, where the professional classes seek refuge from inner-city crime in gated communities and large, guarded homes.

The strategy worked - not least because whites, who comprise just under one in four of the population, vote in far greater numbers than other ethnic groups. Apathy appears to have played a key role. In a predominantly Democratic city, enough of Mr Woo's supporters simply did not turn out.

The election follows the retirement of Tom Bradley, the city's veteran black mayor who held office for 20 years, supported by a fragile coalition of blacks, white liberals, and Jews which Mr Woo hoped to inherit. Mr Riordan, the first Republican mayor since 1961, appears to represent a swing back to Los Angeles's traditional roots, when it was a mostly white city, a Riviera on the Pacific. The outcome brought a 'smell of cigar smoke' back to Los Angeles city hall, much like the 'big-shouldered politics of Chicago and Boston', observed Kevin Starr, a historian of Californian politics.

Like Ross Perot, Mr Riordan has presented himself as a self-financed outsider bent on cleaning up a profligate city government, hit hard by recession and facing a dollars 500m deficit. But his record tells a different story. He belongs to the city's most elite clubs, and has contributed millions to politicians across the spectrum.

A Roman Catholic with strong ties to the church hierarchy (he once gave a cardinal a helicopter to enable him to avoid the freeway traffic), he claims to be pro-choice and owes some of his riches to investing in the pharmaceutical company that came up with the world's first birth control pill. Yet he has also poured thousands of dollars into anti-abortion groups.

He campaigned heavily on law and order although, to his embarrassment, it emerged recently that he had three alcohol-related arrests, two for drink- driving in the 1960s and 1970s. He is also a friend of Michael Milken, the junk bond king who recently finished a jail term.

Whether Mr Riordan offers much prospect of reuniting a fractured city is open to question, but the signs are not good. Pre-election surveys showed that the negative ratings of both candidates were higher then their favourable ratings - a result which partly reflects the mud-slinging that characterised the race.

Asked what they most liked about Mr Riordan, only 2 per cent of his supporters said it was his understanding of the new multi-racial city. In his victory speech, he pledged his administration would involve people 'of every race, creed, colour and sexual orientation'. But it will be a long time before many of Los Angeles's Hispanics and blacks - who together comprise the majority - believe him.