August 27, 2009
Nearly all elected officials in New Mexico released statements Wednesday lamenting the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. Even the state Republican Party e-mailed a missive praising Kennedy for his “dedication and passion.”
Most were predictable. But the statement of Gov. Bill Richardson — who is on a trade mission in Cuba this week — had one line that caught my eye.
Kennedy, the governor said, “was probably responsible for my first victory in Congress, and became a political mentor of mine.”
I researched that 1982 race a couple of years ago for a story I wrote back when Richardson was running for president. And I don’t remember Kennedy being a major factor.
It’s true that Kennedy came to Santa Fe at least once in 1982 for a Richardson campaign event. A Sept. 27, 1982, New Mexican article, written by my late former colleague Bob Storey, documents a rally at the College of Santa Fe that attracted more than 2,000 people. The story was headlined “Kennedy thrills Democrats.”
“I believe in a party, a Congress, a country and state that cares about prosperity and hope and opportunity for our people, so does Toney Anaya. So does Jeff Bingaman and so does Bill Richardson.”
For those not around that year, Anaya was the Democratic candidate for governor while Bingaman was the Democrat running against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Harrison Schmitt.
It was a good year for Democrats in the state. Anaya and Bingaman both won, as did the 34-year-old Richardson in the newly created 3rd Congressional District. He got about 64 percent of the vote that year.
But was it Kennedy who turned the tide for Richardson?
The truth is, Richardson would have beaten Republican Marjorie Bell Chambers in the heavily Democratic district with or without Ted Kennedy. Basically Richardson won the seat when he won the Democratic primary that June.
As Richardson himself (or perhaps co-author Michael Ruby) wrote in his 2005 biography Between Worlds, “The 1982 general election was a breeze compared with the primary.”
Indeed, it was a hard-fought and heated primary in which Richardson defeated Lt. Gov. Roberto Mondragon, political newcomer Tom Udall and a state judge named George Perez.
Checking the book: If Kennedy had anything to do with winning the 1982 Democratic primary, Richardson said nothing about it in his autobiography.
In fact, assuming the index is correct, there are only two mentions of Ted Kennedy in Between Worlds.
One is on page 27, when he was talking about the assassinations of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. “I liked all the Kennedys. I was very upset when Bobby was killed in 1968. Years later, Ted Kennedy came and supported me in my first run for office.”
However, just 49 pages later, Richardson talks about his first run for office in 1980 when he challenged incumbent Republican Congressman Manuel Lújan.
“I appealed for help from some big guns,” Richardson wrote. “I’d endorsed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in his (1980) run against President Carter. Kennedy made several trips to New Mexico to campaign for his own candidacy, but he wouldn’t campaign for me because his staff people said I didn’t have a prayer.”
I assume in that first reference the governor actually was recalling the 1982 election, when Kennedy did campaign for him.
Memorial for Teddy: The state Democratic Party has planned a candlelight vigil for Kennedy at 8 p.m. today at Civic Plaza in downtown Albuquerque. Those attending are asked to bring their own candles.
Please check out my story in today's New Mexican on what Sen. Ted Kennedy and his family mean to many Northern New Mexico Democrats. CLICK HERE.