President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to be distracted by several political scandals and messes on the eve of his inauguration. But they will be harmful to the degree that they draw media and public attention from the big public agenda lying in front of us.
Sunday afternoon, New Mexico Gov. and Commerce Secretary-designee Bill Richardson, a 2008 Presidential aspirant in his own right, joined Obama in announcing that he was withdrawing from his Commerce nomination in order to cope with federal corruption charges in his home state. Earlier Sunday The New York Times broke a front-page story disclosing that an upstate New York developer had four years ago donated $100,000 to former President Bill Clinton's foundation soon after Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's Secretary of State nominee, had secured millions in federal assistance for the developer's mall project.
Meantime, former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's designee to succeed Obama as a U.S. Senator, was scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C. Tuesday to stake his claim to the seat. Democratic Senate leaders vowed that he would not be seated. Off to the side, speculation mounted as to whether Caroline Kennedy would or would not be appointed to fill the New York Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Clinton. A dispute over the Minnesota Senate recount, apparently headed to the courts, could drag on for weeks.
On a personal level, I feel badly for Richardson, whom I have known since his days as a Senate staff member in the early 1970s and, then, as a young congressman and, eventually, chair of the Hispanic Caucus. After serving as a U.N. Ambassador and Energy Secretary in the Clinton Administration, Richardson returned home to serve as New Mexico's governor and a 2008 Presidential aspirant. I have no idea about the merits of the charges against Richardson. The outlook does not sound good, as Richardson suggested Sunday that he would continue as governor "for now" but would support his lieutenant governor in the future. It would be a sad ending to an otherwise notable political career.
Changing the political subject is proving more difficult than anyone thought entering a new and promising presidency.