Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Sparks To Fly; Big Bill Alter Ego Exits; Saw The Action Up Close, Plus: My Chicharrones Party; It's All Up Next On New Mexico's Top Blog
He was the Governor's alter ego, a senior adviser and his whipping boy. But now the multifaceted role played by Big Bill Deputy Chief of Staff Billy Sparks is drawing to a close. Speaking to me last night from the citadel of New Mexico power politics, the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse, the 53 year old lifelong Dem confirmed our exclusive: "It is time for a break. I will leave next week."
What a long, strange trip it must have been. Sparks has been privy to the highest and lowest moments of one of the most demanding political figures in the nation, and has accompanied the chief executive from the first handshakes of campaign 02' to today as dawn breaks on the 06' race.
The 53 year old music buff, son of a full-blood Eastern Cherokee, became well-known for his long ponytail and his smooth relationship with NM reporters from all four corners. But closeness to Big Bill, or any leader of national ambition, has its price. Reports surfaced periodically of intense shouting matches between the pair and the beginning of the end was signaled when Sparks was removed from day-to-day press duties and given the honorific title of Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications. (Pahl Shipley, who spells his first name the way you see it, now runs the media shop)
But five years in the volatile environment of high-level politics is a good run, and while the relationship between the powerful Guv and his chief flack may have grown a bit icy toward the end, it was their deft handling of the media in the early years that will be long-remembered and studied by future power players.
As for his future, Sparks is talking with the University of New Mexico (Health Sciences) and other possible employers. UNM is already home to former Big Bill aides David Harris and Connie Beimer. The possibility of Sparks heading there comes in the midst of turmoil as the UNM Regents apparently prepare to have the head of UNM Prez Louis Caldera.
THE LIFE WE CHOSE
Sparks traveled the political circuit for years before landing in New Mexico in 1996 to work the Clinton campaign. But the big break didn't come until 2002, but it was indeed big. He found himself in the heady atmosphere of international politics, handling worldwide press and accompanying the Guv to North Korea. "That was a highlight," he reflected as night stole the day over America's oldest capital city.
He also leaves with the satisfaction, he said, of hearing ex-NM GOP Chair and respected foe John Dendahl basically concede this year's governors race. "In his appearance with you on KNME-TV (following the Guv's Jan 17 State of the State speech) he conceded the race and said the margin of victory would be less than the 16% we won by four years ago. And he did not even mention the name of their candidate. That's pretty good," remarked the veteran consultant in his last political analysis on behalf of Governor Richardson.
Sparks has a passion for his guitar and his six year old son. Both will now get more attention. For Big Bill the deadlines, the intensity and the adrenaline rushes from playing the game at the highest possible level goes on. For Billy Sparks there will be memories. But, oh my, what memories they will be.
MY CHICHARRONES PARTY
Tito Madrid, the staffer who handles the ABQ Valley for GOP U.S. Rep Heather Wilson, had the right idea Monday. As he was preparing to exit the famous ABQ Barelas Coffee House on Fourth Street NW, he had a plastic bin of chicharrones tucked firmly under his arm. I noted that because I had ordered the large portion for my table of two and they give you enough to feed four. Madrid (no relation to Patsy, I think) dubbed the Barelas chicharrones the best in the city. Other knowledgable insiders agree.
Tito was squiring about Colin Hunter, Heather's D.C. legislative director, who looked every bit the WASP from prepville, but was happily becoming native as Tito planned to show him more of the local restaurant scene. Their other guest was the young guy who handles Heather's health stuff. Sorry, I forgot his name, probably because the last thing I wanted to be reminded of as I chowed down on the straight-to-your-arteries treat was my health.
Other chicharrones take-out players, realtor Bob and his wife Laura, told me on their way out that you don't want to microwave the leftover morsels. "Pan fry them," I was directed. And darn if he wasn't right. Last night as I worked the Alligator scene on the Billy Sparks story, I joyously finished juicy, not dry, pork bits.
And don't worry Heather. Tito and the D.C. gang were tight-lipped on any inside campaign info. Not an Alligator convert in the bunch, but someday...
MY BOTTOM LINES
And finally, in the nonpartisan spirit of New Mexico's #1 political blog, I also recently chatted up Heather Brewer who has taken on press duties for Dem congressional hopeful Patsy Madrid. Heather is fresh from the ABQ mayoral campaign of Eric Griego, who lost, but got a nice consolation job with Big Bill. And I noticed the other day there is yet another Heather in this race. Heather Wade is Heather Wilson's campaign press aide. Maybe sometime I will get all three Heathers together for lunch. Do you think they like chicharrones?
My blog is your blog. E-mail me your latest cool political stuff. Glad to have you aboard. See ya' tomorrow.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
Not for reproduction without permission of the author