Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Bill Richardson, a Former Governor and UN Ambassador Who Worked to Free Detained Americans, Dies
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 7 months ago on
September 5, 2023

Share

WASHINGTON — Bill Richardson, a two-term Democratic governor of New Mexico and an American ambassador to the United Nations who dedicated his post-political career to working to secure the release of Americans detained by foreign adversaries, has died. He was 75.

The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which he founded and led, said in a statement Saturday that he died in his sleep at his home in Chatham, Massachusetts.

“He lived his entire life in the service of others — including both his time in government and his subsequent career helping to free people held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” said Mickey Bergman, the center’s vice president. “There was no person that Gov. Richardson would not speak with if it held the promise of returning a person to freedom. The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad and I have lost a mentor and a dear friend.”

President Joe Biden said Richardson seized every chance he had to serve in government and lauded his efforts to free Americans being held elsewhere. “He’d meet with anyone, fly anywhere, do whatever it took. The multiple Nobel Peace Prize nominations he received are a testament to his ceaseless pursuit of freedom for Americans,” the president said in a statement. “So is the profound gratitude that countless families feel today for the former governor who helped reunite them with their loved ones.”

Before his election in 2002 as governor, Richardson was U.S. envoy to the United Nations and energy secretary under President Bill Clinton and served 14 years as a congressman representing northern New Mexico.

But he also forged an identity as an unofficial diplomatic troubleshooter. He traveled the globe negotiating the release of hostages and American servicemen from North Korea, Iraq, Cuba and Sudan and bargained with a who’s who of America’s adversaries, including Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It was a role Richardson relished, once describing himself as “the informal undersecretary for thugs.”

“I believe that we have to engage our adversaries no matter how different our philosophies are,” Richardson once said. “The way you deal with issues that divide nations is through humanitarian efforts before political differences. I think that is fundamental.”

He helped secure the 2021 release of American journalist Danny Fenster from a Myanmar prison and this year negotiated the freedom of Taylor Dudley, who crossed the border from Poland into Russia. He met with Russian government officials in the months before the release last year of Marine veteran Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap and also worked on the cases of Brittney Griner, the WNBA star freed by Moscow last year, and Michael White, a Navy veteran released by Iran in 2020.

Roger Carstens, the U.S. government’s chief hostage negotiator, described Richardson as “a friend and partner in bringing wrongfully detained Americans and hostages home.” and said in a statement Saturday that he would “miss his wise counsel and friendship.”

Armed with a golden resume and wealth of experience in foreign and domestic affairs, Richardson sought the 2008 Democratic nomination for president in hopes of becoming the nation’s first Hispanic president. He dropped out of the race after lackluster finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Richardson was the nation’s only Hispanic governor during his two terms, calling it “the best job I ever had.”

“It’s the most fun. You can get the most done. You set the agenda,” Richardson said.

As governor, Richardson signed legislation in 2009 that repealed the death penalty. He called it the “most difficult decision in my political life” because he previously had supported capital punishment. Other accomplishments included $50,000-a-year minimum salaries for the most qualified teachers in New Mexico and an increase in the state minimum wage.

Most Prominent Work Began in 1994

Some of his most prominent global work began in December 1994, when he was visiting North Korean nuclear sites and word came that an American helicopter pilot had been downed and his co-pilot killed.

The Clinton White House enlisted Richardson’s help and, after days of tough negotiations, the then-congressman accompanied the remains of Chief Warrant Officer David Hilemon while paving the way for Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Hall to return home.

The following year, and after a personal appeal from Richardson, Saddam Hussein freed two Americans who had been imprisoned for four months, charged with illegally crossing into Iraq from Kuwait.

Richardson continued his freelance diplomacy even while serving as governor. He had barely started his first term as governor when he met with two North Korean envoys in Santa Fe. He traveled to North Korea in 2007 to recover remains of American servicemen killed in the Korean War.

In 2006, he persuaded Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to free Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Paul Salopek.

In an interview with The Associated Press in August, Richardson said he was proud of the work he had done to free dozens of people over the years and of his advocacy for the Navajo Nation.

Richardson and former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah created a fund to offer supplies and equipment to the Navajo Nation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, providing personal protective equipment, food, water and hundreds of pairs of shoes to Navajo students in the state.

Richardson transformed the political landscape in New Mexico. He raised and spent record amounts on his campaigns, bringing Washington-style politics to an easygoing western state with a part-time Legislature.

Lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, complained Richardson threatened retribution against opponents. Former Democratic state Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell once said Richardson was “beating people over the head” in his dealings with lobbyists on a health care issue. Richardson dismissed criticisms of his administrative style.

“Admittedly, I am aggressive. I use the bully pulpit of the governorship,” Richardson said. “But I don’t threaten retribution. They say I am a vindictive person. I just don’t believe that.”

Longtime friends and supporters attributed Richardson’s success partly to his relentlessness. Bob Gallagher, who headed the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said if Richardson wanted something done then “expect him to have a shotgun at the end of the hallway. Or a ramrod.”

In a statement, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, described Richardson as a visionary who saw New Mexico’s potential before others did. “New Mexico, our country, and, frankly, the entire world lost a champion today. Bill Richardson was a titan among us, fighting for the little guy, world peace, and everything in between.”

After dropping out of the 2008 presidential race, Richardson endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton despite Richardson’s longstanding friendship with the Clintons.

Obama later nominated Richardson as secretary of commerce. Richardson withdrew in early 2009 because of a federal investigation into an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving his administration in New Mexico. The investigation ended without charges against Richardson and his former top aides.

Richardson had a troubled tenure as energy secretary because of a scandal over missing computer equipment with nuclear weapons secrets at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the government’s investigation and prosecution of former nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee.

Richardson approved Lee’s firing at Los Alamos in 1999. Lee spent nine months in solitary confinement, charged with 59 counts of mishandling sensitive information. He later pleaded guilty to one count of mishandling computer files and was released with the apology of a federal judge.

William Blaine Richardson was born in Pasadena, California, but grew up in Mexico City with a Mexican mother and an American father who was a U.S. bank executive.

He attended prep school in Massachusetts and was a star baseball player. He went to Tufts University and its graduate school in international relations, earning a master’s degree in international affairs.

Richardson moved to New Mexico in 1978 after working as a Capitol Hill staffer. He wanted to run for political office and said New Mexico, with its Hispanic roots, seemed like a good place. He campaigned for Congress just two years later — his only losing race.

In 1982, he won a new congressional seat from northern New Mexico that the state picked up in reapportionment. He resigned from Congress in 1997 to join the Clinton administration as U.N. ambassador and became secretary of energy in 1998, holding the post until the end of the Clinton presidency.

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

Whitey Herzog, Hall of Fame Manager Who Led Cardinals to 1980s Success, Dies at 92

DON'T MISS

Coalinga-Huron Teachers Say They’ll Strike Unless a Fair Contract Is Offered

DON'T MISS

Coalition: CA Lawmakers Need to Roll Back Proposed ‘Utility Tax’

DON'T MISS

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

DON'T MISS

Now’s the Time to Register for FUSD’s Free Preschool and T-K

DON'T MISS

‘Hopeville’ Literacy Documentary Showing Tonight at Roosevelt High

DON'T MISS

Michigan Faces Probation for Football Recruiting Violations; Case vs. Jim Harbaugh Pending

DON'T MISS

What Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse Can Tell Us About the Public Domain and Remix Culture

DON'T MISS

Acquisition of Historic Fresno Real Estate Brand Creates Area’s Largest Brokerage

DON'T MISS

Wall Street’s Mixed Trading Day

UP NEXT

Charges Against Trump and Jan. 6 Rioters at Stake as Supreme Court Hears Debate Over Obstruction Law

UP NEXT

Paris Hilton Backs California Bill to Bring More Transparency to Youth Treatment Facilities

UP NEXT

House to Send Mayorkas Impeachment Articles to the Senate, Forcing a Trial

UP NEXT

Facing a Republican Revolt, House Speaker Johnson Pushes Ahead on US Aid for Ukraine

UP NEXT

Biden’s Embrace of Trump’s Tariffs Could Spell Trouble for His Reelection: Fareed Zakaria

UP NEXT

Ship That Caused Bridge Collapse Had Apparent Electrical Issues While Still Docked, Source Says

UP NEXT

The Latest | World Leaders Urge Israel Not to Retaliate for the Iranian Drone and Missile Attack

UP NEXT

How California Legislators Got More Than $1.4 Million in Travel and Gifts in 2023

UP NEXT

US Shoots Down Iran-Launched Attack Drones as Biden Team Pledges ‘Support’ for Israel

UP NEXT

A Mission of Mercy, Then a Fatal Strike: How an Aid Convoy in Gaza Became Israel’s Target

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

9 hours ago

Now’s the Time to Register for FUSD’s Free Preschool and T-K

Local Education /

9 hours ago

‘Hopeville’ Literacy Documentary Showing Tonight at Roosevelt High

Local Education /

9 hours ago

Michigan Faces Probation for Football Recruiting Violations; Case vs. Jim Harbaugh Pending

10 hours ago

What Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse Can Tell Us About the Public Domain and Remix Culture

10 hours ago

Acquisition of Historic Fresno Real Estate Brand Creates Area’s Largest Brokerage

Breaking News /

10 hours ago

Wall Street’s Mixed Trading Day

11 hours ago

It’s ‘Signing Day’ for These Clovis Unified Youngsters

Local Education /

11 hours ago

Clovis Armed Robbery and Pursuit Result in 3 Arrests, 1 Suspect Still at Large

11 hours ago

Charges Against Trump and Jan. 6 Rioters at Stake as Supreme Court Hears Debate Over Obstruction Law

11 hours ago

Whitey Herzog, Hall of Fame Manager Who Led Cardinals to 1980s Success, Dies at 92

NEW YORK — Whitey Herzog, the gruff and ingenious Hall of Fame manager who guided the St. Louis Cardinals to three pennants and a World Seri...

4 hours ago

4 hours ago

Whitey Herzog, Hall of Fame Manager Who Led Cardinals to 1980s Success, Dies at 92

4 hours ago

Coalinga-Huron Teachers Say They’ll Strike Unless a Fair Contract Is Offered

7 hours ago

Coalition: CA Lawmakers Need to Roll Back Proposed ‘Utility Tax’

9 hours ago

CA’s High Construction Costs Limit Housing. A Supreme Court Decision Might Help

Local Education /
9 hours ago

Now’s the Time to Register for FUSD’s Free Preschool and T-K

Local Education /
9 hours ago

‘Hopeville’ Literacy Documentary Showing Tonight at Roosevelt High

10 hours ago

Michigan Faces Probation for Football Recruiting Violations; Case vs. Jim Harbaugh Pending

10 hours ago

What Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse Can Tell Us About the Public Domain and Remix Culture

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend