Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tom Udall, Our Next U.S. Senator

Crystal Dog Set

Cove and Representative Tom Udall

Tom Udall is my neighbor in Santa Fe - in fact we vote in the same precinct. He is running for and will probably be elected U.S. Senator from New Mexico. I am certainly voting for him.

My nickname is Cove. I have run for public office many times, including once for Mayor of Santa Fe. In fact, I have been on the ballot as a candidate so many times that I can't actually remember how many times I have run. But one thing I was always sure of - I wouldn't ever win. For me, winning was never the point.

Once, during a local election while waiting at the polling place to vote, Tom and his wife, Jill Copper, were standing next to me in line, also waiting to vote. After some pleasantries, Jill turned to me. Pointing her finger at me, she said, with all her lawyerish authority, "Don't you ever run against Tom.” Gulp! It is no wonder Tom Udall has been so successful and no wonder Jill Cooper's daughter, Amanda Cooper, is one of Governor Bill Richardson's main political advisors.

Amanada Cooper, Jill Cooper, Tom Udall, and former Ambassador Joe Wilson

I remember at Governor Richardson's book signing Amanda Cooper walked by and I started to introduce myself to her. She interrupted, barking at me with a scowl on her face saying, "I know who you are ... Why are you so mean?" Probably referring to this blog.

In response I said, "Why don't you hire me?"
"I don't think that would work out." Then, thinking for a second, she said, "If you say nothing but nice things about the governor for six months then I'll think about it." As it turned out, I did and she didn't.

Skip forward to the winter. I'm driving down the road from my house in my funky 1980 Dodge Ram ex-Forest Service pick-up truck. I look off to the side of the road and see an old man lying on the ice-covered road struggling to get up. I pulled over to help him and immediately recognized him as Stuart Udall, Tom Udall's father and former Secretary of the Interior.
"Mr. Udall, are you all right? Can I take you to the emergency room?"
As I picked him up. he answered, "No, I'll just go home."

I held his arm and walked him up the driveway toward his house. As we approached what I knew to be his home, I realized that he was very confused and didn't know which house was his. I thought he really must have banged his head hard during the fall. I brought him in and sat him on the couch in the living room. Again I asked, "Can I take you to the hospital? Can I call Tom or Jill or Amanda?"

Starting to lie down and close his eyes, the senior Mr. Udall objected, declaring, "No, I just want to rest for a minute. Tom is in Washington and I don't want to bother anyone." He leaned his head back against the wall. Then, as he lifted his head forward, I saw blood on the paint on wall. I'm not sure it was out loud but I said, "I'm calling 911."

What was strange was when I asked the emergency operator "that maybe they could call our U.S. Representative Tom Udall and tell him that his father was on the way to the hospital" the operator said, "We don't have his number."
"What about calling his office?" I asked.
"I don't think we have that number either."
"Never mind, I'll call myself", I said with frustration.

I looked around the room and saw a sheet of numbers printed in large print. Going down the list there it was - TOM'S CEll. I dialed the number and Representative Udall answered the phone as he continued a conversation with someone. I could hear him say "I have to take this call from my father" obviously noting the name on the caller ID. Assuming it was his father, Stuart Udall, on the phone Tom started to talk, "Dad, you'll never guess who I'm speaking with, I'm here with Senator..." naming a mutual friend of the Udalls.
I broke in, surprising him saying, "Tom ... Tom ... Congressman..."

After a second of shocked silence, he asked, "Who is this?"
After telling him who it was, there was even a more telling silence as he thought, 'why would this nutcase neighbor be calling me in the halls of Congress on my private line using my father's home phone?' Even from two thousand miles away from Washington, D.C., I could see that in his mind, the image was not a pretty picture.

I explained to Congressman Udall that his father had fallen; that I had called for emergency help and that his father was just now on the way to the hospital.

"Do you want me to go with him?" I asked.
"No I'll call my sister," Udall replied.

I left but after a while, just to make sure things were all right, I stopped by the emergency room. Tom's sister was indeed there and Stuart Udall was being examined and treated for a concussion.

It was some months later that I saw a little piece in the paper about Stuart Udall falling and breaking his leg. Although I never thought I had done anything special for the Udalls, I somehow thought I might have heard from Tom after the incident with his father. As I drove down the hill from my house, I happened to see Jill Cooper, Tom's wife, jogging. I stopped my truck and asked her, "How's Stuart?", referring more to the serious bang on her father-in-law's head than the most recent fall.
"He broke his leg."
"I heard."
"How did you know?" she asked.
"I saw it in the paper."
"It was in the paper?"
"This morning." I replied.

Later in the year I was having trouble getting my Social Security retirement benefits.
I went to my Congressman, Tom Udall, for an appointment to ask for his help. It seems he was too busy to see me. I told my story to an assistant who put me on a list of people who needed a form letter to some government agency.

At home, as I went through the piles of old documents that I needed for my appeal to the Social Security Administration, I found an early 70's color Xerox piece of postcard art from my days in Berkeley, CA. It somehow captured the abstract artistic conceptual feeling I had toward the whole race of people we call "politicians." The 'title' of the piece was "POLITICIAN$: The Crystal Dog Set"