Friday, July 30, 2010

Richardson considers pardon for Billy the Kid

Sounds like Bill Richardson would do anything to grab attention.
By BARRY MASSEY, Associated Press Writer Barry Massey, Associated Press Writer – Fri Jul 30, 7:43 am ET

SANTA FE, N.M. – The showdown between Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid has fascinated the American public for nearly 130 years with its classic, Old West storyline of the frontier lawman hunting down the notorious gunslinger.

As it turns out, the feud isn't completely over.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is considering granting a posthumous pardon to Billy the Kid, angering descendants of Garrett who call it an insult to recognize such a violent outlaw.

Three of the late lawman's grandchildren sent a letter to Richardson this week that asked him not to pardon the outlaw, saying such an act would represent an "inexcusable defamation" of Garrett.

"If Billy the Kid was living amongst us now, would you issue a pardon for someone who made his living as a thief and, more egregiously, who killed four law enforcement officers and numerous others?" the Garrett family wrote.

The issue has resurfaced because Richardson asked a New Mexico columnist earlier this year to check with historians to measure their support for issuing a pardon. The governor plans to meet with Garrett family members next week to discuss the issue.

Garrett shot Billy the Kid down on July 14, 1881. Garrett tracked him after the outlaw escaped from the Lincoln County jail in a famous gunbattle that left two deputies dead.

The Kid's status as an Old West folk hero grew as countless books, films and songs were written about the gunslinger and his exploits. According to legend, he killed 21 people, one for each year of his life, but the New Mexico Tourism Department puts the total closer to nine.

The pardon dispute is the latest in a long-running fight over whether Garrett shot the real Kid or someone else and then lied about it. Some history buffs claim Billy the Kid didn't die in the shootout with Garrett and landed in Texas, where he went by "Brushy Bill" Roberts and died of a heart attack at age 90 in 1950.

Richardson joined the tussle in 2003 by supporting a plan by then-Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan to reinvestigate the century-old case.

The governor said he was willing to consider a pardon for the Kid — something the outlaw hoped for but never received from New Mexico territorial Gov. Lew Wallace.

"Governor Richardson has always said that he would consider making good on Governor Wallace's promise to Billy the Kid for a pardon," Richardson spokeswoman Alarie Ray-Garcia said Thursday. "He is aware of the Garrett family's concerns and will be meeting with them next week."

Susan Floyd Garrett of Santa Fe is one of the grandchildren who signed the letter to Richardson. She said the family decided to speak out because a pardon represents a "defamation of character" to their grandfather. She described the Kid as a "gangster."

"Everybody wants to mythologize Billy the Kid," she said.

Garrett and her brother, Jarvis Patrick Garrett, met Thursday with descendants of another key figure in the Kid's story — John Henry Tunstall, a rancher whose murder in 1878 triggered a bloody feud known as the Lincoln County War. Billy the Kid, also known as William Bonney, worked as a ranch hand for Tunstall.

Hilary Tunstall-Behrens of London, a great-nephew of Tunstall, said he's not backing a modern-day pardon for the Kid.

"I wouldn't join the cause," said Tunstall-Behrens, 83. "There is so much strong feelings."

Gale Cooper, an amateur historian who lives near Albuquerque, said a pardon by Richardson would be the "culmination of the hoax that contended Pat Garrett was a nefarious killer and Billy was not buried in his grave."

Cooper has written a book, "MegaHoax," to debunk claims that Garrett killed someone other than the Kid.

After serving as Lincoln County sheriff, Garrett's career soured. He ran unsuccessfully for higher political office, served as a customs collector, but ran into financial problems as a rancher.

He was shot and killed in 1908 in a dispute over his land.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Mexico Revisits Scandal
Investment Manager Admits Pushing Contracts Aiding 'Politically Connected'

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Corruption allegations are again swirling around Gov. Bill Richardson's administration, after a longtime investment manager for the state admitted giving into pressure to push financial deals that would enrich political heavyweights here.
Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, pictured in September, has denied wrongdoing over the latest investigation into the state's financial dealings.

Saul Meyer, a founding partner of the Dallas-based firm Aldus Equity, made the admission in a plea agreement unsealed this week in New York, where Mr. Meyer pleaded guilty to securities fraud for a kickback scheme involving New York state's pension fund.

Mr. Meyer said he violated his fiduciary duty in New Mexico "on numerous occasions" by urging investments for two state boards that he knew would prove lucrative for unnamed "politically connected individuals."

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, in a statement about the New Mexico investments, said they "were not necessarily in the best economic interest of New Mexico."

The new developments come just five weeks after federal prosecutors in a separate investigation dropped a long-running, pay-to-play probe involving Mr. Richardson, a Democrat. In that investigation, allegations that Mr. Richardson steered state bond business to a major political donor forced him to decline a nomination in January to an Obama administration cabinet post.

In late August, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico issued a scathing letter saying that "pressure from the governor's office" led directly to "corruption" in the bond deal process, but did not charge Mr. Richardson.

The governor has denied any wrongdoing in that case, as well as the probe by state and federal authorities involving Mr. Meyer. Authorities would not comment on their investigation.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed documents related to Mr. Meyer's firm, as well as emails dating back to 2003 that were exchanged with a trustee of one of the state boards, Bruce Malott. Mr. Malott served as Mr. Richardson's campaign treasurer in 2006 and is a close ally. He also kept the books for Mr. Richardson's political action committee and charitable foundation.

In an email message Wednesday, Mr. Malott said he was "very disappointed to read that Saul Meyer recommended investments on any basis other than" their quality, and added that he has "a particularly strong interest in the Justice Department conducting as thorough and prompt an investigation as possible."

Mr. Malott was reappointed to one of the boards in question, the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board, by Mr. Richardson. The governor also appointed the head of the other board under scrutiny, the State Investment Council, and serves on it himself.

Both boards turned to Aldus Equity to advise them on complex investments, each worth tens of millions of dollars. State officials and political appointees would review the recommendations from Aldus, and rarely disagreed, according to a person close to the process.

Reviewing those transactions earlier this year, the boards found that the firms they invested with had paid substantial sums to third-party brokers. Prominent among the brokers: Marc Correra, a wealthy Democratic donor whose father, Anthony Correra, is a notable financial supporter of the governor.

The younger Mr. Correra and his partners received nearly $22 million in fees associated with the various investments. Both boards later said the size of the fees paid to Mr. Correra had not been fully disclosed to them.

"Certainly the depth and breadth of these fees were not disclosed -- the majority of the time we were unaware of them," said Charles Wollman, a spokesman for the State Investment Council.

Mr. Wollman said state officials still did not know whether the money for Mr. Correra's fees came directly out of public funds or were paid for by the state's investment partners. Either way, he said, the disclosure "absolutely" raised concerns.

Gov. Richardson said through his spokesman that he never discussed state investments with Mr. Correra. Mr. Correra's lawyer, Sam Bregman, said his client "has committed absolutely no crime."

Anthony Correra couldn't be reached for comment. His lawyer didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Earlier this year, Marc Correra was part of an investment group that won a coveted state license for a racetrack casino. He later dropped out of the project after news reports raised questions about his ties to Mr. Richardson.

Political observers here said Mr. Richardson had appeared to regain a bounce to his step after being cleared in the federal bond-deal probe in late August. He hosted a delegation of North Korean officials, flew to Cuba on a trade mission and told reporters that he was running again at full steam. Political analysts began suggesting that Mr. Richardson might yet join the Obama administration, perhaps as an international envoy.

Now, even members of the governor's party say they sense a new swirl of scandal erupting from Mr. Meyer's admissions.

Political analysts said the potential for a new scandal in Sante Fe could boost Republican chances in the 2010 governor's race. Mr. Richardson is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.
—Ana Campoy contributed to this article.

Write to Stephanie Simon at

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Suit claims NM lost $90 million due to Pay to Play
The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 14, 2009; 7:13 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A former investment officer for the state's educational pension program claims New Mexico taxpayers lost more than $90 million in an alleged "pay-to-play" scheme in which political contributions to Gov. Bill Richardson influenced the awarding of investment business.

Frank Foy says in a lawsuit that the Educational Retirement Board made a $40 million investment through Chicago-based Vanderbilt Capital Advisors and Vanderbilt Financial because of pressure from a Richardson appointee who served as chairman of the pension system's governing board. The investment went bust, as did another for $50 million made through Vanderbilt by the state Investment Council that Foy also claims was the result of political influence.

Foy, chief investment officer at the Educational Retirement Board from 1996-2006, claims Vanderbilt executives later contributed at least $15,100 to Gov. Bill Richardson's failed presidential campaign.

The whistleblower lawsuit was filed in July on behalf of the state under a 2007 law but had been sealed until this week. Plaintiff's attorney Victor Marshall said at a news conference Wednesday that damages could total more than $300 million. Defendants include two of the governor's appointees, Vanderbilt and several of its employees, but the governor himself is not named.

"The reason I came forward was not to inflict harm on the state of New Mexico," said Foy, who contends he was forced to retire from state government last year. "My hope is to help the state recover more than $300 million that is owed to taxpayers and teachers."

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Richardson, said the governor "is confident that the state agencies named in this lawsuit acted properly and in the best interest of New Mexicans.

"This lawsuit, filed by a disgruntled former employee who was accused of serious misconduct during his time as a state employee, makes absurd claims against state agencies," Gallegos said. "The state will vigorously defend those agencies."

The lawsuit adds to the cloud gathering over Richardson because of pay-to-play allegations. Foy is the first high-ranking state employee to go to court and publicly allege Richardson political appointees helped steer state business to the Democratic governor's campaign contributors.

In announcing his decision to withdraw his nomination as U.S. commerce secretary this month, Richardson expressed concern that the investigation was dragging on and could become an unnecessary distraction to President-elect Barack Obama's economic initiatives.

The governor has denied any wrongdoing in the federal case.

The investments at issue in Foy's lawsuit are collateralized debt obligations _ securities backed by pools of mortgages or other assets. CDOs have sharply dropped in value since a credit crisis erupted more than a year ago as investors abandoned all but the safest forms of debt.

The lawsuit characterizes the investments as "liars' loans, lethal leverage and toxic waste."

The $90 million investment was wired to Vanderbilt in August 2006 but was worthless when the funds collapsed four months later, Foy said. Contributions to Richardson's campaign were made by several Vanderbilt employees in February, June and December 2007.

A spokesman for Pioneer Investments, Vanderbilt's parent company, didn't return messages seeking comment.

Foy said he actively opposed the Vanderbilt transactions and was targeted for retaliation by Education Retirement Board members who acted on instructions from Bruce Malott, the board's chairman and a Richardson appointee, and from a defendant identified as "John Doe No. 2," whose identity remains under seal.

The lawsuit said Malott "insisted that the ERB invest in this particular product from this particular vendor."

Malott, who served as treasurer of Richardson's 2006 gubernatorial re-election campaign, called the lawsuit baseless.

"I simply lost faith in Mr. Foy's appropriateness for the position," Malott said.

Foy was the retirement board's chief investment officer for a decade until he says he "was forced to protect himself" and took a demotion to deputy chief in 2006, a position that protected him from firing without cause.

According to the lawsuit, Foy continued to speak out against "pay-to-play" operations until he retired. He was accused of sexual harassment in December 2007, an allegation the lawsuit contends was "contrived" to force Foy into retirement.

Jan Goodwin, executive director of the Educational Retirement Board, said managers concluded the complaint against Foy had merit "and we took appropriate action."

The lawsuit also alleges that another Richardson appointee, State Investment Officer Gary Bland, and others at the State Investment Council "carried out instructions from John Doe #2 and perhaps others to invest state money in exchange for political contributions or other illegal or improper inducements."

"The state investment officer has not participated in any wrongdoing and will vigorously fight the reckless allegations made today," said Charlie Wollman, a spokesman for Bland.

Foy's lawsuit was brought under a state law that allows private citizens to sue on behalf of the government for claims of fraud against taxpayers. Plaintiffs can receive a share of monetary damages that might be awarded.

Such lawsuits are initially sealed after being filed. Damages can be tripled, which is how Foy arrived at the $300 million figure.
See for a follow up story that SEC is investigating the allegation.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Richardson on Hot Seat
Published: January 10, 2009

SANTA FE, N.M. — Gov. Bill Richardson tried to return to the public routine of being governor last week, cutting ribbons and making announcements, but at every turn reporters peppered him with questions about a federal investigation into whether his aides had steered a consulting contract to a political backer.

The investigation forced Mr. Richardson to forgo a cabinet post in the Obama administration and focused attention on the state’s loose campaign-finance laws. New Mexico is one of a handful of states with no caps on campaign donations and no independent ethics commission to look into conflicts of interest.

“This is the Wild West,” said State Senator Dede Feldman, an Albuquerque Democrat who has pushed a campaign-finance overhaul. “There are few restrictions, there are no limits on campaign contributions.”

Since taking office in 2003, Mr. Richardson has been dogged by accusations that big contributors to his campaign received favors from the state — patronage jobs, infrastructure projects, contracts, approvals from state boards. Those accusations, never proved, have not hurt Mr. Richardson’s popularity.

But now the governor, who has promoted campaign-finance limits in recent years, finds himself on the defensive.

Two of his closest political advisers and campaign aides are under scrutiny by federal prosecutors for their roles in awarding a lucrative contract in 2004 to a bond consulting firm that, around the same time, donated more than $100,000 to Mr. Richardson’s political committees (See this Washington Post article and this Bloomberg story. Also see on David Contarino, and on Michael Stratton).

“In my view, the state and its officials have done nothing wrong,” Mr. Richardson said Wednesday after a ribbon-cutting in Albuquerque. “They behaved with the best of intentions and the best conduct.”

Another big Richardson supporter, Sonny Otero, a contractor, made a hefty profit in 2006 when the state bought 12 acres of vacant land from him in Santa Fe, paying $3.2 million more than his family’s business paid for it two years earlier.

Before the sale could go through, the Legislature had to amend a land-acquisition bill to enable the purchase of the Otero parcel, and Mr. Richardson signed the bill. Two months after the sale, Mr. Otero made a $50,000 donation to Mr. Richardson’s re-election campaign, part of the $86,000 he has given the governor since 2002.

Mr. Otero said that the State Department of General Services first contacted him about the property and that he never spoke to the governor about the sale. Mr. Richardson’s spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos, said, “The governor had no involvement in and no knowledge of the land deal.”

Some critics say the governor’s problems were inevitable in a system with no restrictions on political donations or any official watchdogs. The state’s lawmakers hold part-time, unpaid positions and rarely have the legislative resources, much less the political will, to investigate the executive branch. Many fear the governor, who has the deep pockets to finance opponents and the power to slash projects in the districts of his political enemies, legislators and lobbyists said.

“We have a system that is wholly out of whack and out of sync with what other states have done and what the federal government has done to try to regulate money and politics,” said Matt Brix of the Center for Civic Policy, a good-government group. “That invites all kinds of problematic situations.”

Before being elected governor, Mr. Richardson, 61, served more than 14 years in the House of Representatives, and under President Bill Clinton he was ambassador to the United Nations and the energy secretary.

Mr. Richardson’s political background, especially his Washington ties, has made him easily the most formidable fund-raiser in state history. He amassed $21 million for his two races for governor alone. An additional $4 million has been donated in recent years to two political action committees he controls, and he raised $24 million for his presidential bid last year.

“Governor Richardson brought us a whole new level of fund-raising here and campaigning that never stops,” said State Senator Tim Jennings, a Democrat of Roswell who has been critical of the governor. “We were always a lot more laid-back before that.”

For his part, the governor, who declined to be interviewed, has maintained that campaign donations do not influence his decisions. In at least two cases, he canceled state contracts his political supporters had won after the deals became public. He also gave back a $10,000 contribution from a company that won a contract to provide health care to prisoners.

Yet in an interview on NBC in 2007, Mr. Richardson acknowledged that giving money to a politician gives the donor “a little bit of an edge.”

“I don’t give any extra access to somebody that contributes,” he said. “But I’ll remember that person, and I’ll say: ‘Jeez, that guy helped me. Maybe I can help them.’ ”

Over the last three years, as the state was rocked by corruption scandals, the governor has pushed measures to limit campaign donations and to form an independent ethics commission, though he failed to get them through the Legislature. In 2006, he signed legislation barring bidders from giving money to public officials during the contracting process.

“The governor has been the single champion for changing the laws in New Mexico,” Mr. Gallegos said. “It’s been an uphill battle.”

Still, he has not stopped taking large contributions from individuals and businesses who want something from the state government.

“We have these problems over and over again, and whether something illegal occurred or not, it’s the system that is really corrupt,” said Steven Robert Allen, the director of Common Cause New Mexico.

One of Mr. Richardson’s biggest individual contributors, for instance, is Paul Blanchard, the president of the Downs at Albuquerque, a racetrack and casino on the state fairgrounds. Mr. Blanchard not only served as the finance chairman of Mr. Richardson’s 2006 campaign, but he, his businesses and his wife, Kandace, have donated $300,000 to Mr. Richardson in the last two statewide elections.

Mr. Blanchard, as a racetrack and casino owner, has many dealings with the state. In May, for instance, the State Racing Commission, appointed by Mr. Richardson, approved a controversial request from Mr. Blanchard to move the racetrack off the fairgrounds to the city of Moriarty and expand its casino operation.

Critics of the governor say there are other examples of Mr. Richardson taking positions that benefit his donors. For instance, Mr. Richardson strongly supported building an interchange off Interstate 25 that is wanted by a California developer, Jim Foster, who plans to build a housing development nearby. Mr. Foster gave $75,000 to the governor during his 2006 re-election campaign and donated the use of his personal jet to the governor for campaigning.

“I support governors who support jobs,” Mr. Foster said.

Mr. Gallegos said the governor supported the interchange because it would create jobs, not because of Mr. Foster’s donation.

One of the largest donors to Mr. Richardson has been Forest City Covington, a joint venture that is developing Mesa del Sol, a 12,900-acre tract of state-owned land just south of the Albuquerque airport.

From 2002 to 2007, Mr. Richardson’s two political action committees, his re-election campaign and his presidential campaign received more than $290,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from Forest City Covington and members of the families that control the company.

In that time, the University of New Mexico’s board of regents, controlled by Mr. Richardson’s appointees, and the state land office engineered a complicated three-way deal that made it possible for the developer to buy a 3,000-acre piece of the tract from the university for $9 million and a share of future profits. Overseeing the deal was the regent’s board president, Jamie Koch, a Richardson appointee and former state Democratic Party chairman.

The Legislature, with strong urging from the governor, also changed state law to let the developer divert tax receipts to underwrite bonds that would be used to pay for infrastructure on the site. In April 2007, Mr. Richardson signed off on legislation authorizing the developer to issue up to $500 million in bonds. Mr. Gallegos said Mr. Richardson supported the project because it would create jobs.

Michael Daly, president of Mesa del Sol, said the company donated to Mr. Richardson’s campaigns to support his pro-business policies, not to win particular legislation.

“Our job is to attract jobs to the state,” Mr. Daly said. “We think he does a great job to attract tenants.”

Friday, January 9, 2009

Richardson's Rise and Stall
Richardson left the Clinton Administration to earn money. He worked for Kissinger Associates (Henry’s for-profit outfit) and sat on the boards of three oil companies. Also, he was an outside director at Peregrine Systems, a software company that went bankrupt, after which its CEO (a relative of Mrs. Richardson) was charged with securities fraud. Richardson said he was out of the loop.

As Governor, he skirted several scandals involving New Mexico public officials, evaded questions about campaign donations from executives of companies doing business with the state and played nicely with un-appetizing elements of the state Democratic Party.

Despite that and despite a reputation dating back to his congressional days for bullying and arrogance, he got projects off the ground. Still, each achievement seemed calculated to craft an image to exploit in future races –- Richardson, the pro-business liberal.

Thus, the Governor kicked off his reign by cutting income tax rates on the highest brackets. (Cue business applause.) He subsidized trains, movies and space business; environmentalists and intellectuals joined the business boosters and only libertarians grumbled.

He cajoled chambers of commerce into swallowing a modest hike in the minimum wage; thumbs up from business and labor. And while pushing incremental improvements in health coverage, Richardson stonewalled measures the insurance business feared; reformers were disappointed but he’d pleased an industry noted for helping its friends.

This was government tailored neatly to personal ambition.

What to make of him? Here’s a politician so nimble he dances, Astaire-like, right and left, then taps to center stage for his bow — but who never notices (or averts his eyes from) tawdry doings backstage.

I see Bill Richardson as a man of his times.

“Virtue never has been as respectable as money,” Mark Twain once pointed out, but surely the last 25 years have seen the apotheosis of market morality –- i.e., no morality. Oozing into every nook and cranny of American life, it dissolves ethics and justice wherever it seeps.

Permission to digress? Writing about our degraded public life reminds me of former Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, who died last week. In person, he was unassuming and soft-spoken. He thought himself a public servant. In this age of unapologetic materialism, he was quaint, a relic.

A man of our era, Bill Richardson blatantly used public office as a means to an end — his political ascent. I hope he powers out of the stall, but not before rebalancing his priorities, putting New Mexicans’ interests before his.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Richardson's Stumble Erodes Clout at Home
JANUARY 7, 2009, 10:42 P.M. ET

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Gov. Bill Richardson is returning to work in a weakened political state.

The New Mexico governor's withdrawal as nominee for commerce secretary could embolden his opponents -- not just Republicans, but also conservative Democrats intent on reining in state spending. And his return comes as New Mexico had already lost much of its voice in Washington.

Just a few months ago, New Mexico was riding high, enjoying national stature as a battleground in the presidential race and reaping a windfall in revenue from energy-production taxes. But the state treasury has taken an enormous hit from the collapse of energy prices. This year's $6 billion budget quickly developed a shortfall of nearly $500 million.

Lawmakers had planned to deal with the crisis by working with Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who was set to take over the state's top job as soon as Mr. Richardson was confirmed as commerce secretary. Now, abruptly, Mr. Richardson is back. Sunday he withdrew from his nomination to the cabinet post, citing a federal investigation into whether his administration steered a financial-advisory contract to a corporation that had donated to the governor's political committees. Mr. Richardson says he has done nothing wrong and expects to be cleared in the federal probe of CDR Financial Products.

But even some of the governor's legislative allies say he has lost face and clout, and can expect a bristly welcome.

"We're all surprised -- here he is again," said state Sen. Dede Feldman, a Democrat. "He has had his problems with the state senate in the past, and I don't think that will improve."

Mr. Richardson, who declined requests for an interview, has made his mark on New Mexico by spending money -- to improve roads, for example, and to build Spaceport America, meant to encourage tourist travel to the edge of space. With the legislature's assent, he offered financial incentives to woo businesses and movie productions to the state.

Now, his most urgent task will be cutting spending -- which will inevitably involve paring some of his pet programs, several legislators said. "It's not going to be a fun year for him," said political analyst and blogger Heath Haussamen.

Mr. Richardson has always been an aggressive, call-the-shots governor, and those close to him said they expect him to continue in that vein. But his stumble on the national stage could cost him politically.

"It's the wounded animal syndrome -- predators may sense blood and circle him, nipping at his flanks," said state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, a Democrat.

More broadly, New Mexico is left without much heft in Washington. The state's six-term senator, Republican Pete Domenici, long a powerhouse on the budget committee, has retired. And all three of its House seats are occupied by freshmen.

Advocates for New Mexico say their struggling state needs as much help as possible from President-elect Barack Obama's stimulus plan -- but they now fear being cut out for lack of clout. "We're all definitely wondering what this means for New Mexico over the next couple years," said Gabriel Sanchez, a political scientist at the University of New Mexico.

The withdrawal of Mr. Richardson, a Mexican-American, also has deeply disappointed many Latinos. Even among a growing group of politically prominent Hispanics, Mr. Richardson stood out for his charisma, ambition and swashbuckling style on an international stage.

"A lot of our community sees their hopes and dreams reflected in what Bill Richardson has been able to do," said Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group. "We hold him out as a role model for our young people."

Two Latinos remain among Mr. Obama's cabinet picks: Sen. Ken Salazar as interior secretary and Rep. Hilda Solis as labor secretary. Other Latinos likely to be influential in national politics over the next few years include New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez; New York Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez; Miami mayor Manuel Diaz; and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

People close to Mr. Richardson say he hopes to get a second chance to join the Obama administration. The question is whether any national comeback would be dramatic enough to restore Mr. Richardson's political reputation.

Meanwhile, scrutiny of Mr. Richardson's administration and associates intensified Wednesday.

William C. Sisneros, chief executive of the New Mexico Finance Authority, said in an interview that he had received calls from a senior member of the governor's staff, asking him to talk to firms including CDR; a woman who worked for a longtime adviser to the governor also called repeatedly to set up a meeting with CDR.

Neither effort prompted him to hire the firm, which was already doing business with the authority, Mr. Sisneros said. CDR made $1.48 million for its work, he said, which netted the authority $8.2 million.

Write to Stephanie Simon at

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Richardson Bows Out

Warning signs that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson would have trouble in his confirmation hearings to become Barack Obama's Commerce Secretary had been multiplying for weeks. It doesn't surprise seasoned New Mexico political observers that the two-term governor withdrew from his chance to join Mr. Obama's cabinet this week.

Mr. Richardson was caught up in what has become a major grand jury investigation into possible connections between the state's awarding of a lucrative contract and sizeable contributions a California company made to political action committees created by Gov. Richardson. While the governor himself has not been publicly implicated so far, many of his political employees have given testimony to the grand jury.

Aides to President-elect Obama are already blaming Gov. Richardson for the mess, saying that when his staff was asked for information on the grand jury probe "nothing" was forthcoming. But that's exactly the kind of answer a team of vetters for a future president isn't supposed to accept.

The problems with Mr. Richardson should have been evident to anyone with experience in machine-run Chicago. "Corruption is a way of life in New Mexico," says local blogger and novelist S.J. Reidhead, who maintains that the state's Democratic Party has been controlled by a corrupt machine for many decades. Perhaps it takes someone like Mr. Obama's Chicago pals to imagine Mr. Richardson's tainted backyard wasn't worthy of asking blunt questions about.

Another sign Mr. Richardson was in trouble came only a few days after he was appointed Commerce Secretary last month. On December 16, he abruptly ended a news conference by refusing to answer questions about the grand-jury probe of his office. Trip Jennings of the New Mexican Independent reported that Mr. Richardson's "abrupt departure was out of character for a governor who usually lingers at the end of news conferences to shake hands and mingle with individuals in the room. But on Tuesday he never made eye contact with the reporters."

Mr. Richardson's departure leaves Mr. Obama with a political dilemma, as Hispanic groups are already demanding that the Commerce Department vacancy be filled with another prominent Latino. Mr. Obama may feel he has checked off that diversity box with his appointment of California Rep. Hilda Solis as Labor Secretary. But he will face intense political pressure to make sure the Commerce Secretary post is held by an Hispanic too, especially since George W. Bush has had former Kellogg CEO Carlos Gutierrez in the job for the last four years.