Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson dead at age 75

September 4, 2023
Ben Marquis

A once-prominent Democratic politician who aimed to transcend partisanship in both official and unofficial service of the United States over several decades has passed away.

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who once served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and unofficially worked tirelessly to secure the release of detained American citizens around the globe, died on Saturday at the age of 75, according to the Daily Caller.

In addition to being a governor and a diplomat, Richardson was also a member of Congress, a Cabinet official, a presidential candidate, and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, among other things.

Richardson's quest to free Americans held captive abroad

NBC News reported that Richardson's death was announced by his friend and colleague, Mickey Bergman, who said in a statement, "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."

"There was no person that Governor 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," he added.

Bergman is the vice president of The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which "promotes global peace and dialogue by identifying and working on areas of opportunity for engagement and citizen diplomacy with countries and communities not usually open to more formal diplomatic channels."

Richardson's career

Per the Associated Press, Richardson was born in Pasadena, California, to an American father and a Mexican mother but spent most of his childhood in Mexico City before moving to Massachusetts to attend school and ultimately settling in New Mexico, where he began his career in politics after briefly working as a staffer on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

He was first elected to Congress and served until 1997 when he resigned to accept the post of U.N. ambassador under then-President Bill Clinton, only to then be named as Clinton's Energy secretary in 1998.

Richardson then returned to New Mexico and served two terms as that state's governor. He also launched an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008 and shocked the political world when he endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama over former first lady and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. Obama sought to reward Richardson by nominating him to be Commerce Secretary, but Richardson withdrew himself from consideration due to multiple alleged scandals and investigations at that time, none of which panned out or sullied his reputation.

Throughout all of that and stemming from his brief tenure as U.N. ambassador, Richardson devoted much of his time and energy to both official and unofficial diplomacy with an emphasis on settling disputes and negotiating the release of Americans held abroad -- work that earned him multiple Nobel Peace Prize nominations, including one recently just a few weeks before his death, according to The Hill.

He is credited with securing the release of at least 15 Americans held as hostages or political prisoners in foreign lands -- as well as an unknown number of "other discrete cases" -- and enjoyed letters of support for his latest nomination from four Democratic senators and 14 of the individuals he helped get released from captivity.

Obama and Clintons issue statements

"As a member of Congress, a Cabinet member, a Governor, and as an Ambassador, Bill Richardson was one of the most distinguished public servants of our time. He was a tireless diplomat, the type of advocate who brought a glimmer of hope -- and in many cases freedom -- to those Americans detained abroad under the most trying circumstances. I was grateful for his counsel over the years, and Michelle and I send our love to his wife Barbara and his entire family," former President Obama said in a statement.

The Clintons, despite a deep rift that developed with Richardson following his 2008 endorsement of Barack over Hillary, also released a joint statement upon learning of his death, according to NBC News.

"Whether in an official or unofficial capacity, he was a masterful and persistent negotiator who helped make our world more secure and won the release of many individuals held unjustly abroad," the former first couple said. "He was also a trailblazer whose career helped pave the path for other Latino Americans to serve at the highest levels of American government."

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