Thursday, April 23, 2009

Iconic Rick Johnson Ad Agency Sold To Employees, Plus: State Investments: Dreading The News, And: In My Time; Our Many Mayoral Races 

One of the state's media power couples are getting out of the game. Industry insiders report Rick and Debbie Johnson, owners of the state's best known and longest-lasting advertising agency, Rick Johnson and Company, have sold the firm, founded in 1977, to their employees,

"Rick's health suffered recently and a decision was made to sell. They sold the agency to their employees. It continues to operate as a full-service advertising and public relations agency" informed one of our Senior Alligators.

We're informed the sale took place several weeks ago. Johnson was an ABQ banker before going into the advertising business. One of his first big clients was the old First National Bank.

The Johnson agency is iconic in New Mexico and for decades has been intertwined with the state's major business institutions and players. Its clients have included Public Service Company of New Mexico, Presbyterian Hospital and more recently the Heart Hospital of New Mexico. Until the ad agency business became more diversified here, Rick Johnson and Company was considered the default agency for any major NM advertising work. The company did not do a lot of political ads, but for many years it held the state contract to promote NM tourism.

Here's a 1995 magazine profile of the Rick Johnson agency.


We've come to dread what the investigative reporters at the ABQ Journal will reveal next about what has gone wrong with our state's investments. Day after day more questionable behavior is revealed and more questions raised about who was and is watching the chicken coop. We did not think a proposal from GOP State Senator Steve Neville that would have stripped the governor of some power over the State Investment Council was that hot of an idea, but with the continuing revelations it is making more sense. Richardson vetoed the Farmington lawmaker's measure. The Senator has also been reading the papers and comes with this:

The Governor owes the state an explanation of why he vetoed a bill that would have instilled more confidence in the State Investment Council that manages $11.5 billion of NM Dollars. A front page headline screams: 'Richardson insider: 24 deals, $11.5 million in Fees.; Another article is about a lawsuit that claims NM lost millions in a flawed State Investment Council Investment through an alleged pay-to-play scheme...There is a huge cloud of mistrust...There is also suspicion that a financial adviser to the Council has been caught up in a New York pension fund pay to play scandal...Why the veto? Where is the explanation?

Perhaps some Democratic Senators should join with Senator Neville in asking more questions? What's that? Dr. No knocking on the door? And he has called a Legislative Finance Committee hearing on the SIC mess? Yes indeed, Dr. No.


The toxic aftermath of one of the greatest financial bubbles in world history has even poisoned some of the air around New Mexico senior Senator Jeff Bingaman. He and his son were mentioned only in passing in a New York Times peice and the Democratic lawmaker is accused of no wrongdoing. But Jeff's son worked for an investment company on Wall Street where criminality may have been running amok, dragging the Bingamans, however briefly, into the muck and mud that has done so much damage to the American economy. For Bingaman's son the moral of the story may be that old bromide: "Go to bed with dogs. Wake up with fleas."


The punsters have escaped their chains now that funeral home owner Kevin Daniels is giving serious consideration to seeking the GOP US House nomination for the ABQ congressional seat held by Dem Martin Heinrich (on Tuesday's blog). From the e-mail:

"Although people are dying to get in the door, Daniels will still need to raise lots of cash."

Kevin will have to keep his sense of humor because there will be more. By the way, we're told Daniels is a fluent speaker of Spanish so he's probably heard all the death jokes in a couple of languages.

Martin Heinrich is probably the last guy laughing about Daniels. He was hoping for a sacrificial lamb for his first re-election bid, but if Daniels is willing to put up some of his personal money the race could get more competitive than top Dems were anticipating. We'll see.


There will be no self-financed candidates in the '09 for mayor. All three candidates have qualified for public financing under the city's new campaign law. But that may help incumbent Mayor Chavez more than his two challengers. We explored the issue in
this TV report.


Still in the Game
We bumped into one of the talented consultants for one of the mayoral campaigns over lunch this week who reminded us that we had worked for Marty Chavez when he sought the mayor's office back in 2001. At the risk of aging ourselves, we add that we also worked for Ken Schultz for mayor in '85, consulted some for Jim Baca when he won the city's top office in '97 and toiled for Republican Dave Cargo when he ran against Chavez in '93.

The first story we ever covered was an election--the 1974 mayoral race which was the first under ABQ's modern mayor-council system. I've often reminisced about how my hands shook crazily when I read that first radio script--a commentary on Harry Kinney defeating Herb Smith. Looking back, offering a commentary as an opening act was a lot of hubris for a 19 year old. Maybe that's why today I give my critics--particularly the younger ones--a wide berth to roam. Some say too wide. As for the hands, they don't shake on on the air anymore, but the heart still skips a beat when a big story crosses our path. I can't imagine being in the game if it didn't.

From a decades-long perspective, 2009 has yielded three solid ABQ mayoral candidates--Chavez, Richard Romero and GOP State Rep. RJ Berry. We fret--and will continue to do so--over the possible involvement of unreportable and unaccountable money debasing the mayoral election, but the candidates themselves seem up to the job of leading the city. We look forward to hearing from each of them.

From Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan reporting.

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