Wednesday, November 02, 2005

WERTHEIM UNDER FIRE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Nov. 2, 2005


State Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim — under fire recently from some Democrats who say he has kept them in the dark on party finances and other matters — said Tuesday that he hasn’t done a good job communicating with his members.

“I haven’t done enough reaching out and soliciting other people’s advice,” Wertheim said in an interview. Wertheim has been state chairman since April 2004.

Wertheim said he is working on improving his communication with party rank-and-file and has taken to heart criticism of his leadership listed in a letter last week from 16 members of the party’s state Central Committee.

The Oct. 24 letter — sent to all 350 central committee members — was from members from the state party’s “progressive” wing.

One of those signing the letter, Barbara Wold of Albuquerque, said her main concern is that the state party needs to be more transparent and more communicative.

In a progressive Democrat blog called Democracy for New Mexico, Wold wrote, “We believe the party's focus has been on candidates and their big personalities at the top instead of on principles and positions that come from the bottom up — the very things that define who we are and what we stand for as a Party.”

Charlotte Roybal of Santa Fe, a longtime party activist who signed the letter, said she and others made a proposal to Wertheim to form a progressive caucus. She never heard back, she said.

Wertheim’s critics say he has not made the state party’s budget available to them. Those signing the letter said they want to see “a meaningful and detailed accounting of the incomes and expenditures that have reduced our state party’s coffers to a dangerous low.”

Wertheim denied that the party is having financial problems.

According to the most recent available filing with the Federal Election Commission, the state party has cash on hand totaling $50,818. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, the state party has spent about $40,000 more than it had taken in.

Party spokesman Matt Farrauto said having $50,000 in the bank during an off election year is “fantastic.” He said the contention that the party is in financial trouble is “fiction conjured by people who don’t have a good perspective.”

Wertheim said the party’s finances and budgets are available to any Central Committee member “who wants to come in and look at our records.”

He said that all the party’s monthly finance reports are available on the Internet. State political organizations are required to file reports with the FEC. But he said he intends to require the party treasurer to come up with a way to help party members better understand the financial reports.

One large expense that has been criticized by some Democrats is a now-terminated consulting contract with a firm called TCB, which cost the party $40,000 between December and September. The company is headed by a man named Richard Buckman, who at least for some time in recent months, was dating the party’s executive director, Vanessa Alarid.

The letter also complains that Wertheim hasn’t responded to requests for regular meetings of the Platform and Resolutions Committee “so we can counter the recurring criticism that the Democratic Party does not stand for anything.”

Wertheim said the activists have a point in this criticism. He said he recently reactivated the committee.

Some Democratic activists have raised concerns about the large turnover on the state party staff in recent months. Last month the party lost long-time comptroller Brian Monaghan, who was hired in 1998 to straighten out problems the party was having with the FEC. Monaghan, 65, said last week his retirement had nothing to do with any problems in the party.

Wertheim said that while some positions haven’t been filled, the party recently hired four regional field organizers to help Democratic efforts in all parts of the state. Their salaries, he said, are being paid by the Democratic National Committee.

Until recently, the party had four other field organizers who were paid by Gov. Bill Richardson’s campaign fund. Those four still work for the governor’s political operation.

Wertheim said part of the party’s problems is that so many new people became active in the party during the 2004 election.

“There’s a lot of energy and passion for the party by people who want to get involved who have no prior experience in party politics,” he said.

Wold, a Howard Dean supporter who became active during last year’s state Democratic presidential caucus, said that she is one of those newcomers Wertheim mentions.

“The party’s not used to having all these new people come in,” she said. “There are 40 to 50 state Central Committee members who are new and don’t expect things to be run like they’ve been run before.”

Wold said the challenge of the Democrats is to “get new blood without turning off the people who’ve worked (with the party) a long time.”

Meet Richard Buckman

A Democratic political operative from Mississippi who was paid $40,000 the state Democratic Party while dating the party’s executive director, has raised eyebrows among some party activists.

TCB Consulting, headed by Richard Buckman, 37, was contracted for “party building and fund raising” between December and September. During at least part of his tenure in New Mexico he was dating Vanessa Alarid, executive director of the state party.

Wertheim said in an interview Tuesday that Alarid had nothing to do with Buckman’s hiring.

During his time here Buckman was arrested on a drunken driving charge in Albuquerque shortly before last year’s election.

However, his lawyer was able to get the DWI charge dropped after convincing a judge that the 300-pound Buckman was too heavy to pass a field sobriety test in which Buckman had lost his balance while trying to walk a straight line.

In September he pleaded guilty to having driving without insurance or his driver’s license.

Buckman couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Some Democratic critics of Wertheim have questioned the TCB contract and what exactly the Democrats got for their money.

Wertheim said Buckman did valuable work for the party in terms of fundraising.

One of TCB’s major accomplishments, Wertheim said Tuesday, was getting retired Gen. Wesley Clark to speak at a fundraising dinner in Hobbs. Strengthening the Democratic Party in southeastern New Mexico — which voted overwhelmingly Republican last year — is crucial, Wertheim said.

In a July e-mail to a county party chairman who had questioned Buckman’s contract, Wertheim wrote, “TCB’s consulting arrangement focuses on strengthening the (state party’s) relationship with the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, both of which have provided substantial financial support to the DPNM during my tenure as Chairman.”

Last week outgoing party comptroller Brian Monaghan said he had never seen the TCB contract, though he had once asked Wertheim to see it.

“I’m not going to read anything into that,” Monaghan said. But he said normally he would see such contracts.

Wertheim said “I’m not sure why he said he couldn’t see it. The contract is on file at the office.”

The contract with TCB was terminated in September by mutual agreement of both parties, Wertheim said.

The DWI arrest had nothing to do with the contract being terminated, Wertheim said.

Buckman currently is in the entertainment business in Los Angeles.

UPDATE: A Democrat reader just pointed out to me that in my subhead for this post I mistakenly had written "Meet Richard Buckner."

For those who don't know, Richard Buckner is a wonderful singer in the alt country realm. You can read about him HERE. As far as I know, he's never been a political operative from Mississippi.

Fortunately, I got Richard Buckman's name correct in the rest of this post, and, thank God, in the paper.

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