Thursday, July 27, 2006


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
July 27, 2006

The mystery of the missing teddy bear — a saga of intrigue that caused one out-of-state pundit to ponder its possible effect on Gov. Bill Richardson’s political ambitions — has been solved.

And Popeye the teddy bear is heading home to 8-year-old Branden Murphy of Clarksville, Md.

Laura Vozzella of the Baltimore Sun told the sad story in her column last week.

“No telling what all this could mean for Richardson’s presidential aspirations,” Vozzella wrote, “But here’s the fallout closer to home.”

It seems Branden was participating in a class project that involved mailing a teddy bear. It was, Vozzella wrote, “an exercise one part geography lesson, one part chain letter. Branden and his classmates mailed bears to people in other parts of the country. Recipients wrote postcards back, then sent the toy travelers on to someone else.”

According to the column, Popeye made it to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, Kansas and Arizona, among other stops.

People sent Branden postcards indicating Popeye had been taken to the Oklahoma City bombing site and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. He reportedly was received by an astronaut in Houston. “Across the country, he has picked up friends in high places,” Vozzella wrote. “A state treasurer here. A couple of state senators there.”

And someone thought it would be a good idea to send Popeye to the governor of New Mexico.

The bear was supposed to be sent back to Branden by May 1, when all the kids in the class were to take their bears to school. But Branden was the only one whose bear was missing in action.

The boy’s mother, Kate Murphy, called Richardson’s office. There, she told Vozzella, a Richardson staffer “said something about that he thought it was a gift.”

However, Vozzella wrote, “when I called, the governor’s office said the bear never came its way. Spokesman Jon Goldstein played dumb: ‘This is a real bear?’ ”

So what happened to Popeye?

Did someone at the governor’s office report him as being one of those “suspicious packages” that pop up from time to time and get ripped apart by a state police bomb squad? Was he stashed somewhere to be used as a prop in an upcoming “Year-After-the-Year-of-the-Child” press conference? Had he been named to some state task force, never to be heard from again?

The answer was discovered after Vozzella’s column appeared in the Sun and New Mexico news organizations started asking questions. Popeye emerged — as if by magic.

Turns out the missing bear had gone to Richardson campaign headquarters in Albuquerque, not to the governor’s office in Santa Fe.

Campaign staffer Josh McNeil said Thursday that the office received Popeye in May — after the deadline for Branden’s class assignment. “We decided to take him on an adventure,” McNeil said.

Campaign workers photographed Popeye at a dinner at the governor’s mansion, on horseback with the governor, at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center and with U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

Why nobody in the campaign notified Branden about Popeye’s whereabouts for two months is unclear.

“He’s going back today,” McNeil said. He’ll be accompanied by a companion — a doll of New Mexico’s most famous bear: Smokey.

Naked clowns? Apparently Vozzella’s source for her story was Maryland lobbyist Don Murphy, young Branden’s uncle.

Murphy is a registered lobbyist for clients that include Feld Entertainment, an umbrella corporation that owns Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice. He once represented a major nudist organization called the American Association for Nude Recreation.

Nudists and circuses! Now there’s a lobbyist after my own heart.

A significant contribution. We’re always writing about politicians taking contributions, but here’s a case in which a legislative candidate is making a dramatic contribution.

Christy Bourgeois of Carlsbad, a Democratic candidate for an open seat in District 54, is donating a kidney to her ailing father. The surgery is scheduled for Aug. 3.

A news release from the state Democratic Party quotes Bougeois, 44, as saying: “There’s no question about it. It’s the right thing to do.” She will put her campaign on hold until she recovers from the surgery. “Without question, my father would donate his kidney to me if he could and I needed one. Parents are very special people in our lives, and we all need to respect God’s gift — parents.”

Bourgeois, 44, is a former Carlsbad police officer who now works for Valor Telecommunications. She’s running against Republican William Gray of Artesia for the seat held by retiring Rep. Joe Stell, D-Carlsbad.

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