Republicans on Tuesday ripped into Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alan Webber for accepting the endorsement of former Weather Underground co-founder — and longtime Albuquerque educator — Mark Rudd and attending a recent fundraiser at the home of Rudd and his wife.
The controversy stirred up a little déjà vu after the 2008 presidential campaign in which Republicans made an issue of former Weatherman Bill Ayers hosting an event for President Barack Obama early in his political career or “pallin’ around with terrorists,” as then-GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin put it.
Webber on Tuesday didn’t disavow Rudd’s support and said that the Martinez campaign was trying to “change the subject” from recent bad publicity in a national magazine story.
Rudd, in an April 13 email to friends, described Webber as “a pro-jobs, pro-environment progressive Democrat” who is “our only chance to get rid of our disastrous Tea Party governor.”
That was a reference to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who is seeking re-election. Her political team wasted little time in tweeting a link to a KRQE TV news story about Webber and Rudd that aired Monday night.
On Tuesday, a Martinez campaign spokesman said, “Alan Webber is a far-left, fringe candidate whose extreme views would be perfectly suitable for someone running for student body president of Berkeley in the 1960s, but are completely out of step with everyday New Mexicans. The fact that Webber embraces the support of a notorious domestic terrorist who casually called New Mexico military service members murderers in 2009 tells the people of New Mexico all they need to know about his extreme politics.”
The national GOP even got involved. The Republican Governors Association issued a news release that said, “Alan Webber’s ties to Mark Rudd, co-founder of the radical anti-government group Weather Underground, which The New York Times has referred to as a ‘terrorist group,’ are deeply disturbing,” a spokeswoman said. “New Mexicans deserve better than a candidate for governor who spends time with a man who founded a group that pledged political and domestic terrorism.”
Rudd, who quit Weather Underground in 1970 while on the run from the law, has for decades renounced the group and their tactics. Much of his website contains lengthy condemnations of the group and stark criticism of himself. In a 2009 interview with Pasatiempo, Rudd said, “I’m a right-winger among the Weathermen, because I’m so critical and self-critical.”
Rudd, whose memoir Underground was recently published by HarperCollins, now teaches math at Central New Mexico Community College.
Rudd became a fugitive after an explosion in an apartment rented by Weather Underground members. Three members of the group were killed. Rudd turned himself into authorities in 1977. All the major charges against him were dropped because of FBI misconduct, so he served less than a year in jail.
Webber said Tuesday, “I think it’s obvious that Gov. Martinez is trying to change the subject away from that story last week in Mother Jones.” That was a reference to an unflattering article about the governor that included recordings of Martinez and her aides talking frankly and sometimes profanely about some Democrats and teachers.
Webber said he was invited to a fundraiser by Rudd’s wife, Marla Painter, who had contributed $500 to his campaign in January. That was about the time that Rudd, according to campaign finance records, contributed $250 to one of Webber’s primary rivals, state Sen. Howie Morales, whom Rudd has said he was considering supporting.
Webber also said he never thought the fundraiser would be used against him. He said Rudd long ago repudiated the Weathermen. “He’s been very heartfelt in his disavowal of [the Weather Underground],” he said.
In his April 13 email, Rudd said his only role in the Webber fundraiser was “cooking and listening.” But, he said, he decided to support Webber after hearing him say that he would turn the campaign into a referendum not only on Martinez, but on billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who have spent millions on GOP candidates around the country.
Rudd on Tuesday told The New Mexican, “It never occurred to me that my past would be raised. I’ve been completely involved in the Albuquerque community for so long — 36 years now — as a teacher and activist that the whole thing seems ridiculous. I’m a member of the Friends of the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge; does that taint the organization? Sheeesh.”
Rudd said he had backed other Democratic candidates in the past, including U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich. Campaign finance records show he’s given money to several Democrats since 2010. Rudd said he’s been in contact with all of the Democratic candidates for governor and that all of them “have asked for the support of my wife and myself.”
Asked Tuesday what he thought when he heard a television anchor describe him as “a well-known American terrorist,” Rudd said, “I might accept ex-terrorist, though at the time we didn’t consider ourselves that. … Meanwhile, the real terrorists, like Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, were never brought to trial or even called to account. They murdered in the neighborhood of 3 [million] to 5 million people. We accidentally killed three of our own. Who are the terrorists?”
In a statement given to reporters, Rudd described the flap as “a non-issue,” saying, “I suspect that if [Martinez] claims Alan Webber is a friend of a terrorist, it will most likely backfire as badly as Sarah Palin’s use of President Obama’s acquaintance with Bill Ayers. It’s irrelevant.”
Slate columnist Dave Weigel on Wednesday described Rudd as “the anti-Bill Ayers, saying in a column, “all Weather Underground members are not Bill Ayers. … Rudd has long been the most apologetic of the Weather Underground’s leaders, a fact not lost on his peers (Bill Ayers doesn’t even mention him in his memoir, Fugitive Days) or on historians of the faction.”