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High Ambition: Richardson Eyes the White House

By Leslie Linthicum
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    PART 1
   
Editor's note: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is exploring a run for the U.S. presidency— the first New Mexican to seek the White House. A five-part, in-depth profile developed over months by Albuquerque Journal reporters Thomas J. Cole and Leslie Linthicum will appear today and over the next four Sundays.
   

    They were two guys on a road trip, headed West in an Italian sports car.
    As it rolled down Interstate 40 toward Santa Fe with the top down on a spring day in 1978, the little Alfa Romeo was loaded with two 6-footers, a trunk full of luggage and a tall order of ambition.
    Riding shotgun and sharing the driving was Steve Cary, a 30-year-old Tufts University grad taking time off from his job as an engineer to help his fraternity buddy move out to New Mexico.
    His friend, Bill Richardson, had just quit his job as a Capitol Hill staffer and had asked Cary to join him on his big adventure.
    They stopped in Nashville and saw the Grand Ole Opry, paid their respects to Elvis at Graceland and ate their first chicken-fried steaks outside Amarillo.
    When they crossed into New Mexico on a hot afternoon and stopped for snacks in Tucumcari, Cary lifted his Coke and toasted their accomplishment.
    "Well, Bill," he said, "we're in New Mexico." Richardson also held his Coke aloft and said with great gravity, "Steve, you're experiencing a historic moment."
    After all, the 1,900-mile journey was more than a Western adventure for a couple of sunburned buddies. It was the first step of the ambitious plan Richardson had set out for the next few years.
    It went like this: Move to New Mexico, settle into the local political scene and quickly launch a campaign to make a U-turn back to Washington, D.C., as a member of Congress.
    New Mexico had been in Richardson's sights for awhile, although he had visited the state for the first time only three years earlier.
    Now it was 1978, and the 30-year-old was moving to tierra incógnita, a place where people's family ties went back 300 years and where political roots ran almost as deep.
    Richardson would be an outsider here, but that was nothing new.
    He had spent his young life fitting like a square peg into round holes: As the son of a Boston banker, he was the only Anglo kid on the baseball fields in his hometown, Mexico City. As the son of a Mexican mother, he was the only kid with a Spanish accent in the paneled halls of a blue-blood East Coast prep school.
    Richardson had developed an effective offense that combined the graciousness of Latin American hospitality (take gifts, remember names) with his own brand of humor (tease generously, make most of the jokes at your own expense).
    It washed a charming veneer over raw ambition and tended to win over skeptics.
    On his first visit to New Mexico three years earlier, Richardson had flown into Albuquerque and called on the chairman of the Democratic Party in Bernalillo County, Ed Romero, at his office.
    Richardson had talked about his work and his family for about 20 minutes, when Romero interrupted him and asked him to get to the point.
    "I want to move to New Mexico, and one of these days I want to run for office," Richardson said.
    Romero, a canny power broker who knew a carpetbagger when he saw one, chuckled and told the young outsider, "You're (expletive) nuts."
    Richardson didn't seem insulted, Romero said, and he was not dissuaded. He asked Romero and his wife to at least join him and his wife for dinner that night.
    After a few hours of barbecue and beans at the Country Barbecue in Corrales, Romero, who would one day serve as U.S. ambassador to Spain, was a convert.
    "I was already in his pocket by the end of the evening," Romero says today. "He had me convinced he was God's gift to whatever state he wanted to run in."
   
Finding his 'roots'
    Richardson found New Mexico when he was searching for a place to be from.
    His boyhood home was in Mexico City, in the neighborhood of Coyoacán. He grew up there poised between the high society his parents moved among and the tattered streets outside the walled estate named Quinta Rosa that his parents bought when they were married.
    His father, also William Blaine Richardson, ran the Mexico City branch of what is now Citibank and moved in the most influential circles, dining with the archbishop and serving as president of the University Club and the Bankers Club.
    Although he had been raised on Boston's Beacon Hill, his mother was from Spain and he had adopted Mexico as his own, speaking fluent Spanish. He married Maria Luisa Lopez, a Mexico City girl (born to a mother from Oaxaca and a father from Spain) who was 25 years younger than him.
    By the time children came along— first Bill, and then Vesta eight years later— he was nearing retirement age and imposed exacting demands on his children.
    The elder Richardson was formal, always wearing a suit and rarely smiling.
    "He was tough. I remember him as a very serious man," said Ignacio Vasquez, who played baseball with Richardson as a child and remains a close friend.
    Billy and Vesta were expected to read and memorize encyclopedias and answer quizzes at the dinner table.
    "We would review the encyclopedia every single night before dinner," Vesta said. "I want you to think of a new word and see if I know it," their father would say.
    On a weekend afternoon, his father might assign Richardson to read several pages of a book and then give an oral report. After school, there were tutors.
    "He was very stern, especially with Bill, because he wanted Bill to be exactly like him, I guess," his sister said. "He was expecting for Bill to be perfect. It wasn't good enough to make a B. He wanted A-plus in math, A-plus in French, A-plus in English, A-plus in everything."
    Life behind the walls of Quinta Rosa, a white-stuccoed hacienda, was filled with lawn parties and elegant dinners.
    The family had vacation homes in Cuernavaca and Acapulco, and when the family wasn't taking a group of kids outside of Mexico City for a holiday, Richardson and his friends spent their free time going to boxing matches, playing baseball and catching Cantinflas films, sometimes three in a row.
    But because his mother wanted her children raised in an authentic Mexican neighborhood and his father liked a real estate bargain, the Richardsons lived their genteel life in a barrio. Quinta Rosa was a gracious former convent marooned in a poor neighborhood. Richardson's childhood was as much shaped by sandlot baseball with barrio kids as it was by high-society parties.
    His father, known for being an easy touch for gifts and personal loans, cleared a lot he owned in the middle of the neighborhood and built a baseball field where Richardson teamed with neighborhood kids to form "Los Yankees."
    The Richardsons provided balls, bats and mitts, and his grandmother sewed uniforms.
    "They used to give us breakfast, dinner at his house. They would buy us shoes; they would give us clothing," said Ernesto Miranda, a member of Los Yankees. "Because he didn't have any brothers, we acted as them."
    Through necessity, Richardson developed an ease at moving between the poor and the rich, Spanish and English, Mexico and the United States.
    He and his sister were American citizens, after all. His mother had waited out the last few months of both her pregnancies with relatives in Pasadena, Calif., so her children could have American birthrights.
    Miranda, who ground masa for his family's tortilla shop while his wealthier American friend was driven to parties by a chauffeur, said Richardson lived in two worlds.
    "His head was in two different directions," he said in an interview outside Quinta Rosa in Mexico City. "When he was with us, the street kids, he was the same as us. When he was with high-society friends, he would act the same as them. He had to.
    "But when he came back to us," Miranda said, "it was like turning on a switch. He would come back to himself."
   
Out of his element
    Richardson arrived in Concord, Mass., in 1961, a 13-year-old fish out of water.
    Concord is a town steeped in American history, where tour buses disgorge tourists at the site of the North Bridge to see where some of the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.
    Richardson's English was delivered with a lilting Spanish accent, American idioms were lost on him and his skin was browned from a summer playing baseball under the Mexico sun.
    Middlesex School, where Richardson would spend the next five years, is the picture of bucolic gentility— Georgian red brick buildings with white trim, stately dormitories with deep porches, a pond for crew competitions and grassy playing fields clustered on 350 acres of dense oaks and maples.
    Hollywood chose the campus when it needed a quintessential elite Eastern boarding school location for the movie "School Ties," a story with bigotry and snobbery as its themes.
    East Coast boarding schools in the 1960s chose their students from a rarefied social stratum, and Middlesex was only a slight exception. It had started to broaden its student body from a WASP core, admitting Jewish and Catholic students. But blacks and Hispanics were another matter.
    "It was pretty white, it really was," said Hugh Fortmiller, who taught English and drama at Middlesex for 40 years. "I'd say there was pride in religious diversity, but we hadn't come to racial diversity until the late '60s."
    There were no black students and one Asian student, and Richardson was the only Hispanic member of his class. Despite his upbringing behind high walls and amid high society in Mexico City, Middlesex was another world.
    He found a soul mate in Ralph Cygan, a scholarship student from the working-class fishing town of New Bedford, Mass.
    The two became companions on the baseball and basketball teams and fast friends. They were roommates during their sophomore, junior and senior years.
    "I have some Portuguese blood in me and Bill's pretty dark," said Cygan, who went on to Harvard and then medical school and is now on the faculty of the University of California-Irvine.
    Their tight friendship deflected the tough reality of the place: It was rich and white, and if you weren't both of those, you stood out.
    "There was at least, to some extent, a degree of snobbishness and class-consciousness, arrogance and affectation," Cygan said. He remembered defending against taunts about the tint of his skin and suspects Richardson faced some hazing as well.
    "I guess there was a sense that we were a little bit different than the typical silver-spooned boarding school kid," Cygan said.
    Middlesex boys wore khaki pants, dress shirts and ties and blue blazers with school emblems. They had early wake-up calls and lights out at 10:15 p.m., two hours of supervised study hall every night and class on Saturday mornings.
    It was an all-boys school where, until the year Richardson arrived, the drama department staged Gilbert and Sullivan operas each year with the younger boys in dresses and full makeup for the soprano roles.
    Teachers were called professors or masters, and boys were called by their last names prefaced by "Mr." Four years of Latin and three sports a year were required.
    Structure also applied to free time, which was limited to Saturday night and Sundays until 6 p.m.
    "Think prison," said Duncan Laurie, a classmate who sometimes hitchhiked the three miles into the town of Concord with Richardson to enjoy a few unstructured hours. "It's a somber world compared to Mexico."
    Boys took meals together at the elegant dining hall, where they sat with faculty members or headmasters next to walls hung with oak plaques, one carved by each Middlesex student going back to 1901.
    Carving the plaque is a senior project required for graduation. Richardson left completing his until days before the cap-and-gown ceremony, getting some help from Cygan in applying the final coats of shellac.
    His finished product summed up his defining characteristics at age 17: a picture of him throwing a baseball imposed over a map of Mexico.
    Richardson credits baseball with moving him from the margins of Middlesex to the spotlight.
    "No question about it," said Thomas Quirk, who taught math at Middlesex and coached the varsity baseball team.
    He remembers spotting Richardson at baseball tryouts in the spring of Richardson's eighth-grade year.
    Spring comes late in Massachusetts, and auditions took place in The Cage, a glass-roofed basketball arena. Quirk had been told Richardson was a good pitcher, but it was his batting against a pitching machine that caught Quirk's eye. The tall, skinny eighth-grader was hammering the ball.
    Quirk set aside more than 60 years of school tradition and sent Richardson straight to the varsity team.
    Just like that, Richardson was no longer the kid from Mexico; he was the kid with the arm and the swing.
    "Sometimes it wasn't the easiest thing to fit into a school like that," Quirk said. "People are just looking to see what you can do, and all of a sudden they found out what he could do."
    Richardson was a five-year letterman and co-captain of the baseball team as a senior. He served on the student council, was sports editor of the school's newspaper and was popular enough by his junior year to host the entire baseball team for a two-week spring break tour of his family's homes in Mexico City, Cuernavaca and Acapulco.
    He also began conducting other important extracurricular activities as he entered his senior year. In town one weekend afternoon, he got a ride back to school from a 16-year-old townie, Barbara Flavin, whose family lived in a big yellow Colonial across the road from Middlesex.
    Young love bloomed, and Richardson started spending much of his free time at the Flavin house, talking baseball with John Flavin, a Concord dentist, and faithfully appearing at mealtimes.
    "All he did was eat," Evelyn Flavin recalls. "And joke. He was never serious."
    But as seniors, the boys at Middlesex were making some serious decisions about their futures. It was a given that they would go to college— and that the majority of them would find spots in the Ivy League.
    In his senior year, Richardson came to Fortmiller, then director of college advising, to talk about a different plan.
    "He was struggling, I think as a 17- and 18-year-old would, with the question about whether he had the potential to play baseball for a living," Fortmiller said.
    Richardson, Fortmiller said, was the best pitcher in the school's 106 years. Some major league scouts had visited the small school to watch him play.
    But Fortmiller counseled a college education and the possibility of a baseball career later.
    Richardson also asked Flavin, who would years later become his father-in-law, for his advice.
    "I told him he would do much better if he'd forget the baseball and concentrate on his academic work," Flavin said.
    Richardson's father, a former football star at Tufts University in nearby Medford, Mass., cut short the talk of trying for a baseball career with an edict. Like his father, he would go to Tufts.
    "There was no discussion; he was going to Tufts. That's it, period," his sister, Vesta, said.
   
Father knows best
    After stewing about it, Richardson dutifully enrolled at Tufts, a 3,000-student university a short drive from Concord. And he concentrated, as his father wanted him to, on economics and business.
    In December, Richardson started baseball tryouts and, once again, baseball was his calling card.
    Fellow freshman John Carco had been hoping to shine on the pitcher's mound, but his hopes of being a freshman star were dashed when Richardson threw for his tryout.
    "Bill had the best curveball I ever saw in high school and college ball," Carco said. "I was OK, but Bill was better."
    Neither Richardson nor Carco made the varsity team as a freshman, but Richardson started on the freshman team with a bang, fanning 12 Harvard batters and batting in two runs in a 4-3 loss in his first game.
    The Tufts Weekly featured Richardson in two stories his freshman year. One article announced he had been named to the Mexican national baseball team and included this legend-making statement: "Before he arrived on campus he was approached by representatives of the Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, as well as a number of Mexican professional teams. He turned them all down."
    In that story, Richardson also put a more positive spin on his path to Tufts, keeping to himself the battle between college and baseball that was won by his father.
    "I really wanted to come to Tufts— I've always wanted to," he was quoted as saying.
    The Tufts Weekly in another story interviewed Yankees general manager Lee MacPhail about Richardson's prospects in the majors.
    "We know all about Bill," MacPhail said. "I believe we were interested in him a year or two ago. Now, of course, we've got to wait four years before we can talk to him again."
    Richardson would go on to record 105 strikeouts in his three years as a letterman. But in his junior year, his arm would begin to fade, along with his dreams of the majors.
    Somewhere in those four years, he would also develop what would become a legendary part of his resumé— that he had been more than scouted by major league teams but actually drafted by the Kansas City Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
    Richardson at various times said he was drafted in 1966, 1967 and 1968.
    The first claim to have been drafted by the majors appears to originate with a 25-cent program for the Cotuit Kettleers, the Cape Cod Baseball League team that Richardson played on in the summer, beginning his freshman year.
    The program note for Richardson, a 6-foot, 1-inch pitcher, ends with "Drafted by K.C."
    Those program notes, according to the Kettleers coach, were based on information provided by the players or their college coaches.
    When Richardson went back to Tufts as a sophomore and filled out his Tufts sports information form for spring baseball in 1968, he didn't mention the draft. A year later, when he filled out his junior baseball sheet, he wrote, "Drafted by Kansas City (1966), LA (1968.)"
    The major league draft would become a staple of his biography. After nearly 40 years of repetition, the story's truth was called into dispute by an Albuquerque Journal story in 2005.
    Confronted with records and other evidence, Richardson would eventually say he wasn't drafted but was scouted so vigorously that he assumed he had been.
   
A path of his own
    Outside of the Tufts baseball team, which celebrated with burgers and sodas at Charlie's Kitchen in Harvard Square after every win, Richardson also found friends his freshman year at Delta Tau Delta, the same fraternity his father pledged when he was at Tufts.
    By the fall of his junior year, Richardson was an ace pitcher for the Tufts "Jumbos" and a popular fraternity brother with a middling B-minus average and no idea of what he wanted to do.
    As a sophomore, he had answered a baseball questionnaire about his postgraduate plans by writing in a question mark.
    But as a junior he was getting an idea of what he didn't want to do, which was follow in his banker father's footsteps.
    "One day he called my mom and said, 'Mom, I hate banking. I have nothing in common with bankers,' '' Vesta Richardson remembers. He liked languages and was beginning to be interested in world affairs, he said. If he switched majors from economics to political science, he asked his mother, what would his dad think?
    By then, the elder Richardson had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and was less and less engaged in his surroundings.
    "He's not going to think anything," Richardson's mother told him, "because we're not going to tell him."
    It was a turning point, a step out from under his father's thumb and toward a new career— even if he didn't realize it yet.
   
No flower power
    Richardson started his junior year in the fall of 1968, when the Beatles' "White Album" was on turntables and campus mixers were giving way to free love.
    Richardson, though, was a self-admitted square.
    He was beginning to allow his hair to touch the tops of his ears, but he hated that a couple of frat brothers smoked marijuana in the house and that others allowed their girlfriends to sleep over in their rooms and use the formerly men-only bathrooms.
    When his girlfriend, Barbara, visited on weekends, she did not spend the night, according to his roommates. Richardson dutifully drove her back to her dormitory at Wheaton College in his Mustang.
    While others were listening to Cream, Led Zeppelin or the Stones, Richardson still liked the Beach Boys.
    He decided to run for fraternity president to turn the brotherhood back to a more wholesome mission— serious ideas and public service, not dope smoking and free love.
    "Talk about being square," Richardson says.
    "He wanted to bring the fraternity back into a more moderate lifestyle," said Bob Karp, a senior who was the sitting fraternity president. "Bill was actually pretty strait-laced."
    He took on another junior, Bob Fitts, who thought he had a lock on the election.
    Delta house elections were low-key affairs that involved buttonholing members at events inside the big brick mansion, perhaps at one of the frequent steak and wine dinners where members gathered.
    "You'd go around and talk to people and say, 'I'd like to be president,' '' Fitts said. "It was all retail politics."
    Fitts, who would go from Tufts into the Peace Corps and devote his career to diplomatic missions, wanted to steer the house toward involvement in national political issues. Richardson wanted to get members involved in charities and especially get dope smoking out of the house.
    Jack Darsch, Richardson's roommate, said his approach was more diplomatic than hard line.
    "There was a lot of turmoil," Darsch said. "He could sit down with opposing sides and talk to them."
    To Fitts' surprise, Richardson edged him out in the voting.
    David Swett was elected vice president and watched with his own surprise over the next year as Richardson, whom he describes as "a soft-spoken, humble guy," sharpened his political skills and figured out how to get his way.
    "He did this brilliant thing," Swett remembers. On whatever issue was on the table, Richardson would first ask the people he knew opposed his position to speak. Then he would start calling on brothers whom he knew supported his point of view.
    "All of a sudden you'd hear the whole mood in the room change," Swett remembers, as momentum would appear to build toward Richardson's foregone conclusion.
    Fraternity brothers called it "the Richardson train."
    "More than one time we said, 'He's going to be president of the United States one day,' '' Swett said. "Swear to God, he's very charismatic when you get to know him, and he's a very successful kind of guy. Whatever he puts his heart and mind to, he's good at."
    Richardson at that point was less certain of his ambition. He knew he liked baseball and was starting to like politics. And he had an ability to relate in some way to just about everybody he met— and to remember their names.
    "If there were 3,000 people at Tufts while he was there," baseball teammate Paul Barry said, "I think 2,000 would say they knew him."
    As he had done at Middlesex, Richardson arranged for the baseball team to travel to Mexico City over spring break, putting together flight arrangements, sightseeing trips in Mexico and places to stay with relatives and friends of his parents.
    With 20 Jumbos on board, the plane blew an engine and had to return to Logan Airport in Boston.
    Barry, a senior, watched as Richardson, a 20-year-old junior, got the trip back on track, arranging for a shuttle flight to LaGuardia, a bus ride to Kennedy Airport and a direct flight to Mexico City.
    "Bill just completely took over and told the airline people, this is what you're gonna do and how it's gonna go," Barry remembers. "Just that air of making decisions, not flustered very much in charge. He even arranged for a mariachi band to meet us in Mexico City."
    Later that spring, Arthur House, a 26-year-old Tufts grad and former member of Delta Tau Delta, was invited to speak after dinner at the frat house.
    House was the new assistant dean at The Fletcher School, Tufts' graduate school for international affairs. And rather than reminisce about the good old days at the Delt house, House decided to talk tough.
    "You leave college with two things," House told the young men. "One is a transcript and the ticket to the next chapter of your life. And the second is a lot of terrific memories.
    "Looking around here," he said, "there's no question you guys are going to have a lot of terrific memories. But what are you going to do? By the time you're a junior, you'd better have a passion for something and you have to produce results."
    He ended his talk by asking, "What are you going to do with your life?"
    The room was quiet, and there were few questions. Richardson came up, shook House's hand and asked if he could speak to him in private.
    He showed up at House's office a few days later and said he was interested in world affairs and thought Fletcher might be a good fit. He said he also realized it was a long shot for a student with mostly B's and C's on his transcript.
    "He made no bones about it," House said. "He knew that he was not where he needed to be to get into graduate school."
    House gave him some more straight talk. He told him he would have to pull a couple of A's that semester in serious classes and then get a couple more his senior year.
    "And I'll be damned if he didn't do exactly that," House said.
    Richardson returned that spring, showed House his most recent grades and talked about the classes he would take the next fall.
    "He was earnest. He was very earnest," House said. "He had decided to make something of his life. He had been living in the comfort of athletics and a few other things and was obviously a charming guy, but he had decided he really wanted to make a difference, and this was the route to go do it."
    Professor Sol Gittleman saw the lights turn on when Richardson took his junior-level class "German Expressionism: The Rise of Nazism."
    "He was somebody you just paid attention to," Gittleman said. "He was an attractive young guy, and then he did get engaged in the subject matter. He got turned on a little bit."
    Richardson got a B-plus in the class, helping nudge his grade-point average into the range that might get him into graduate school.
    Meanwhile, Richardson's roommate Carco watched as a political plan was hatched.
    "I don't say this in a bad way," Carco says. (But) "he was already planning his resumé as he moved forward. I do remember him talking about he would like to go out West and run for office."
    The West was on Richardson's radar, Carco said, because he thought people there could better relate to a Hispanic born in California.
    "If he went up to Montpelier to run for Congress in Vermont," Carco said, "it would have been a tougher road."
    Richardson spent that summer again playing baseball on Cape Cod.
    This was the summer of Woodstock, when a generation of college students was taking part in a revolution in music, fashion and how they thought about the world.
    His teammate and roommate that summer, Stephen Vaughn, remembers a more relaxed approach to the confusion about their coming of age. They mowed lawns, drove around the beaches of Cape Cod during the day and played baseball at night. Vaughn worked on his senior thesis, and Richardson read the philosopher Bertrand Russell.
    The Boston area was aflame with opposition to the Vietnam War as Richardson returned to Tufts for his senior year. Anti-war demonstrations came to campus, and groups of fraternity members drove to Washington, D.C., to join in the massive peace protests, but no one remembers Richardson attending.
    Inside the fraternity house, Richardson's roommate Darsch recalls, "There were factions both for and against the war. Everyone was respected for what they believed in."
    Swett, who lived down the hall from Richardson, said Vietnam was confusing for most seniors but didn't seem to be on Richardson's radar.
    "I don't recall ever having a major heart-to-heart about the Vietnam War or anything like that," Swett said.
    When he turned 18, Richardson had received his draft classification questionnaire, the first step in registering for military service. He sent it back within a week and quickly received notice of his deferment— 1-S, which protected high school students from the military draft. When he enrolled at Tufts, he obtained a student deferment.
    Late in December, the nation resurrected the draft lottery and Richardson pulled a relatively low 131, making it likely he would spend time in uniform.
      In the spring of 1970, as Richardson waited for an answer from Fletcher, the federal government eliminated one immediate benefit of graduate school— continued draft deferment.
    Richardson was required in April to register, and he was classified 1-Y— not fit for service except in a national emergency. The 1-Y classification covered all manner of medical problems from nearsightedness to a broken ankle. Richardson's medical problem was a deviated septum, a nasal defect he has since had surgery to correct.
    The following year, as Richardson was graduating from Fletcher, the 1-Y category was abolished and those with temporary disabilities were classified 1-A. Those, like Richardson, whose medical disability was considered permanent, were classified 4-F, not qualified for military service.
    Richardson had barely made it into Fletcher, getting taken off the waiting list just before the program started in September.
    He had managed, with House's lobbying, to join 80 or so bright graduate students in one of the most well-regarded international relations programs in the country.
    Classmate Barbara Bodine took pity on Richardson and helped him struggle through his first research paper, telling him bluntly that he didn't "know shit" about the topic.
    She said Richardson did not stand out among a class of high achievers in terms of academics or ambition.
    "There were some people whose egos and ambitions were a whole lot more achingly obvious than his," Bodine said. "One of the things that was interesting was that he was not self-evidently ambitious or egocentric. There were much bigger egos at Fletcher and people who really did see themselves as entitled to be masters of the universe."
    Richardson played on Fletcher's softball team, where he was known as a slugger, kicked a soccer ball around with classmates in the afternoons and sat up late with them in the graduate student dormitory, discussing Vietnam and other world events.
    Richardson still held moderate views about Vietnam— that pulling out quickly would be a mistake— and showed an obvious interest in government.
    Richardson, along with other members of the Fletcher class, traveled to Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1971 to tour the branches of government where some of them might find jobs once they got their degrees.
    Richardson, in his autobiography, remembers being transfixed by a speech Sen. Hubert Humphrey gave to the assembled Fletcherites. He credits the talk by the Minnesota Democrat with galvanizing his interest in politics as a form of public service.
    Mark Nichols, who was in the room when Humphrey spoke but doesn't remember much about the talk, said he, Richardson and the other young classmates had a number of inspiring role models who propelled them toward careers in public service— Humphrey and the Kennedys included.
    "The people that we saw come and go during that period ... were people who had gravitas," Nichols said. "They were people who were passionate."
    Modest beginnings
    After getting his master's degree from Fletcher and papering Capitol Hill with nearly 100 letters asking for a job, Richardson landed in Washington as an unpaid intern for a group of liberal-to-moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives.
    They called themselves the Wednesday Group, although they got together every Tuesday.
    His job was to research policy issues and write reports for the members. By Christmas, Richardson had impressed his boss, Rep. Bradford Morse of Massachusetts, who hired him as a staffer.
    He left less of an impression on his immediate supervisor, Patricia Goldman. The Wednesday Group staff was small— Goldman, Richardson and a clerical worker— but Goldman has only a hazy memory of her office mate.
    "He was a relatively young man out of graduate school who did research and played baseball in his spare time," Goldman said. "At that point, I certainly wouldn't have anticipated he would be a presidential candidate."
    By then, even though he was only 25 and finding his way in his first staff job, Richardson was already beginning to imagine his face on campaign buttons.
    After he got a permanent job, Richardson married his high school sweetheart, Barbara, and they settled into an apartment in Washington.
    For the next step of their ives, they needed a place to be from, someplace with a Hispanic base.
    "He called us and said, 'You know, Barbie and I are going to look around and see where we can move, where we can settle,' '' said his sister, Vesta. " 'A place that can accept us, where we can fit in.' ''
    They put Texas, Florida and New Mexico on their list.
    Barbara Bodine, his friend and mentor from Fletcher, also was working on the Hill around that time and was invited over for dinner.
    "He sat down and kind of outlined what he was going to do in his career," Bodine said.
    She remembers New Mexico being at the top of the list.
    "He was going to go to New Mexico and he was going to run for office and, without this kind of clawing ambition, there was a very clear vision of 'this is what I'm going to do and this is how I'm going to do it.' ''
    Richardson's immediate ambition, though, was to get a job that involved international relations.
    He was hired at the State Department in the congressional relations office. The position involved some foreign travel— he went to South Korea and the Philippines— but it wasn't a policymaking position and it was physically removed from where the policymaking action was on Capitol Hill.
    "He wanted to be the guy putting the package together versus just sort of the delivery guy," recalls Bob Dockery, who worked as a staffer specializing in Latin America on the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee while Richardson was at the State Department.
    What Richardson really wanted was Dockery's job, a chance to move onto Capitol Hill and have some policy impact in the realm of Latin America.
    Richardson approached Dockery one day on the Hill and suggested Dockery might be a good fit at the State Department.
    "You ever thought about going down to State, Bob?" Richardson asked. "I think I could work that out for you."
    Dockery smelled Richardson's motive— to get his job— and responded with three words: "Go (expletive) yourself."
    Dockery, whose boss called him "the meanest man on Capitol Hill," was known for remembering slights and getting even.
    But he never held Richardson's ambitious ploy against him, mostly because of Richardson's winning personality.
    "Because he was such a nice guy, you tended to overlook it," Dockery said. "But he didn't have the good graces to sort of bide his time. It was a friendly elbow, but it was still an elbow. I think Bill was more ambitious than most."
    Richardson eventually made the move to Senate Foreign Relations as a human rights specialist, while Dockery kept Latin America.
    Colleagues now, they had coffee together most mornings. Before long, Richardson had clued Dockery in on his real ambition.
    "I don't think he made any secret of the notion that he really wanted to run for Congress," Dockery said. "It was a matter of picking out the right time."
    By this time, Richardson had made forays to New Mexico to get the lay of the political landscape, and he was already looking for a foothold.
    Biding his time, Richardson traveled as much as he could out of the country, adding stamps from Iran and African nations to his passport.
    Sen. Dick Clark, a Democrat from Iowa, chose Richardson to accompany him on a week-long trip to South Africa, where they met with jailed activist Steven Biko and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
    Clark liked Richardson's style on long and sometimes tense trips.
    "He was wonderful to travel with," Clark said. "He was just a very capable, bright guy who knew how to get things done."
    Hans Binnendijk, an old friend from an intramural softball team at Fletcher, lived about a block from Bill and Barbara Richardson and also worked on the Foreign Relations Committee. The men drove to work together every day for two years.
    Richardson was now working for his earliest inspiration, Hubert Humphrey. And while Richardson seemed happy with his work on the committee, Binnendijk said, "It was also clear he was looking forward to some political opportunities."
    Dockery said Richardson tired of working in the background, researching and writing and delivering his product to a senator who would get the credit for it.
    "Bill's not a staff guy, and I think that was always an uncomfortable position for him," Dockery said. "Bill wanted to be the chairman of the committee."
    Go west, young man
    Richardson had been making trips to New Mexico for a year by the time he landed on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    On his first trip to explore his possibilities in 1975, when he got a four-letter brush-off from Ed Romero, the Bernalillo County Democratic Party chairman, Richardson also called on the state party chairman, Hobbs oilman Ben Alexander.
    They met for coffee at La Fonda in Santa Fe, and the coffee barely had time to cool before the meeting was over.
    "He told me that he wanted to move to New Mexico and run for Congress," Alexander said.
    "I just told him that there were a lot of people already in New Mexico that would like to run for Congress and I wasn't very amenable to a guy who lives in Washington, D.C., wanting to move down here and run for office.
    "The meeting was very friendly," Alexander said. "I was just honest with him."
    Alexander's skepticism notwithstanding, Richardson wouldn't be blazing an entirely new trail as an outsider succeeding in New Mexico politics. Republican Dave Cargo had moved to New Mexico from Michigan and was elected governor in a stunning upset in the 1960s.
    And undeterred, Richardson kept returning to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, meeting with important politicos, including Dan Croy, who was then the party's state chairman, and then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who eventually gave the green light to bring Richardson into New Mexico politics.
    Croy wanted to bring Richardson on as executive director of the state party, and Apodaca agreed. He liked Richardson's academic and government experience in Washington. It was obvious Richardson was an outsider, but Apodaca liked his style.
    "He was very polished," he said. "When I say 'polished, you could tell he had an Eastern influence to him. He'd been around Washington and Boston. You could see that in him."
    Richardson took the job, although it was a gamble. Apodaca was a lame duck and would be replaced the next January. It would be quite likely that a new governor or the Democratic nominee after the June primary would want his own men in the top party jobs.
    Richardson and Cary arrived in the Alfa Romeo in May.
    Bruce King, who had served as governor from 1971 to 1974, was the favorite to win the Democratic primary, and by the time Richardson had unpacked his bags, King had already asked Larry Ingram if he would take Croy's state party chairman position if King won.
    Ingram agreed, and according to Ingram's widow, he wasted no time in telling Richardson he would be out of a job if King won the primary and Ingram was in the state party chair.
    Barbara Ingram remembers listening to her husband's side of a telephone conversation with Richardson in late May 1978.
    "Lawrence said to him, 'Well, I would suggest you not sell your house in Washington.' And he said that to him a couple of times and he made it pretty clear to him that if Gov. King was the nominee and Lawrence was state chair that Bill would no longer have that job."
    On June 6, King won the primary. Richardson started his new $20,000-a-year job on June 15 as his wife packed up the couple's home in Washington.
    By mid-July, Croy was out as state party chairman, Ingram was in and Richardson was out of a job.
    He told reporters he had been ambushed.
    "I don't know what I will do," he said. "I am rather stunned about this, but I intend to remain in New Mexico, and I intend to be involved in New Mexico politics for a hell of a long time."
    King said that at the time the party didn't have the funds to support Richardson's salary and that he wanted to bring on a lower-paid assistant.
    And Ingram said he didn't have confidence in the newcomer. "I've got to go with somebody that is proven in the fire, and Bill's track record in New Mexico just hasn't been proven yet," he said.
    Croy told reporters that King had told him Richardson could stay in the job.
    "Bill came out here with a lot of assurances," he said.
    King says that it was nothing personal and that Richardson had been warned. "I didn't pull the rug out from under him," he says today.
    Apodaca backed up King and Ingram, telling reporters that he had told Richardson he was taking a gamble.
    "I told him I thought it was somewhat reckless on his part to move west for less money on what I thought was very little guarantee of a future."
    Within days, party officials had the phones disconnected at Richardson's Santa Fe office, and he was looking for a job.
    He quickly landed on his feet, getting hired as the executive director for the Bernalillo County Democratic Party and going to work to get King elected.
    That job expired on Election Day in November. For the second time in less than a year, Richardson was without a job in his newly adopted state.
    He rented an office, hung out a shingle just off the Santa Fe Plaza and launched the Richardson Trade Group, a consulting business.
    Voters who had just nudged King back into the governor's office had also sent Republican Manuel Lujan back to Congress for another two years.
    Richardson needed to make some money while he cooled his heels and waited for the opportunity he had moved to New Mexico to chase— a shot at his own campaign.
    He didn't wait long.
    In February 1980, on the last possible day to file to run in the spring primary, Richardson delivered his papers to the Secretary of State's Office in Santa Fe and— with less than two years of New Mexico residency under his belt— prepared to ask voters to send him back to Washington.

   

  • Read Part 2 of High Ambition: Richardson Eyes the White House