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Riordan's Health Suddenly an Issue

September 08, 2001

Los Angeles TimesFrom Los Angeles Times
By Michael Finnegan
Times Staff Writer

Richard Riordan's disclosure that he was treated earlier this year for prostate cancer prompted aides to potential rivals in the governor's race on Friday to remind voters of the vigor and stamina required to handle the stress of running the state.

Richard RiordanAdvisors to GOP gubernatorial candidates Bill Jones and William Simon Jr. stopped short of criticizing the former Los Angeles mayor for keeping his cancer treatment secret during his final months at City Hall.

But the disclosure led them to question--albeit indirectly--whether Riordan, 71, is too old to govern the nation's most populous state. "We're obviously pleased to read that he's healthy and that he has successfully battled cancer," said Beth Miller, Jones' communications director. "We certainly hope he's healthy enough to run a marathon, because everyone knows that running for governor of California can put you through your paces."

She described Jones, 51, the California secretary of state, as "healthy as a horse."

"Running for governor requires a great amount of energy and stamina," Miller said. Riordan, she added, "has obviously received a clean bill of health from his doctors."

Sal Russo, chief campaign advisor to Simon, said that Riordan "did the right thing in letting the public know anything that might affect his ability to perform his duties as a public official."

Richard Riordan on the podium"A lot will depend on how vigorous he campaigns and to what extent he demonstrates that he's in good health and up for the job of governor, which is extraordinarily demanding," Russo said. "And, much like the president, you can just watch them age, year by year, in that office. It's tremendous stress and responsibility, and you really have to be in good health to do the job well."

For some voters, Russo said, Riordan's age could already be a factor in whether or not they would support him for governor.

"When you add health to it, it's raising flags, but I'd say at this point it's not an issue," Russo said.

Riordan revealed Thursday that he secretly underwent radiation treatments for prostate cancer during his eighth and final year as mayor. The cancer was discovered in October and the treatments concluded on May 1. Riordan left office in June.

In a brief interview with The Times on Thursday, Riordan said he was making his ordeal known now "because I'm running for office and I think the voters have a right to know about it." He said he plans to make a final decision on the governor's race next month.

Neither the Jones nor Simon campaigns faulted Riordan for keeping the treatment secret while he was still mayor. But aides to Jones and Simon, who is 50, said their candidates would disclose to voters any ailments that might raise questions about their ability to serve as governor.

Richard Riordan's InaugurationEven before Riordan's disclosure, his age had been the subject of campaign skirmishes. Garry South, chief campaign advisor to Gov. Gray Davis, has joked about Riordan's age in an apparent effort to raise doubts about his fitness for the office.

But on Friday, South declined to comment on Riordan's cancer. The winner of the GOP primary in March is likely to face Davis, the presumed Democratic nominee, in the November 2002 general election.

Since he began considering a bid for the GOP nomination last spring--at a time when he was undergoing radiation treatment--Riordan has taken pains to cast himself as full of vim and vigor. On his last day in office as mayor, he allowed a newspaper photographer into the gym of his Brentwood estate to snap pictures of him, shirtless, as he lifted weights. And on a trip to Sacramento last month, Riordan, a bicycling enthusiast, pedaled up to the state Capitol on a racing bike.

"The mayor's in excellent physical condition," Riordan spokeswoman Carolina Guevara said Friday. "He's in better condition than he was when he was 25. The voters--if he decides to run--will take a look at his record and see what he's done for Los Angeles, and put that in the equation when they decide if he's capable of running the state."

Dr. Derek Raghavan of USC, who coordinated Riordan's cancer care, said Riordan is fully capable of being governor and that his long-term prognosis is "excellent."


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