Did Mayor Riordan Really Think the End Justifies the Means?


It’s bad enough when our “leaders” fool themselves. It’s a thousand times worse when they fool us. The fact is, some of the folks at City Hall aren’t unduly burdened by principle. They embrace an idea that lets them do whatever they want to do, with no concern for the consequences. They persuade themselves that, if the end they seek is good, the means they use to achieve it doesn’t matter all that much. Such thinking, it has been observed, occurs frequently in war and power politics.
But a famous philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler, cautions us all to think carefully about ends and means: “If an action is morally bad in itself, it cannot really serve a good end, even though on the surface it may appear to do so. Men in power have often tried to condone their use of violence or fraud by making it appear that their injustice to individuals was for the social good and was, therefore, justified. But since the good society involves justice for all, a government which employs unjust means defeats the end it pretends to serve. You cannot use bad means for a good end any more than you can build a good house out of bad materials.”
Adler’s cautionary note would, no doubt, have been rejected by Richard J. Riordan, a candidate in the City’s 1993 elections. While campaigning to be Mayor of Los Angeles, Riordan promised to turn things around—to bring a new kind of management to City government. He told voters, “Managers must manage; they must be accountable!” That sounded good but it revealed nothing about the radical changes Riordan wanted to make in City Service, nor did it explain how those changes would be made.
Voters knew that Candidate Riordan had been a successful businessman but they didn’t know that he harbored a deep-seated contempt for civil service. And they didn’t learn until they’d elected him that their new Mayor planned to dismantle the civil service system—to put each City department under full control of a Chief Administrative Officer—and to personally hold department heads accountable!
The people of Los Angeles should be concerned that, during his eight years in office, Mayor Riordan attacked civil service by various, morally indefensible means. He ignored civil service regulations, degraded the Board of Civil Service Commissioners, reduced the Board’s role and claimed for himself certain powers that are legally vested in the Board. The fact is, Mayor Riordan changed the City Charter without a vote of the people! He trampled America’s highest value—The Rule of Law!
Yet, according to his supporters, the Mayor was only trying to make City Service more efficient—trying to make City departments more productive. As a matter of fact, it’s not necessary to question Riordan’s motives. His critics might well agree that the end he sought was worthy of their support. But no one should forget Adler’s caution: “You cannot use bad means for a good end any more than you can build a good house out of bad materials.” By using unacceptable means, Mayor Riordan’s “New Paradigm” defeats the end he sought!
OK. So what should City leaders do now? Well for openers, they should acknowledge that the cost of City government is too high. They should admit that costs could be controlled by better human resource management. And they should apologize to the City’s four million residents for politicizing civil service, for trashing the Charter, for keeping the public in the dark about the mess they’ve made!
In my view, first steps like these are absolutely necessary; without them, an unknown number of Angelenos may never again trust elected officials! They may not be mad enough to hit the streets, but…

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