Wilder Set to Hit Ground 'Running'; Former Governor Expects to Be Richmond's Mayor

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

Wilder Set to Hit Ground 'Running'; Former Governor Expects to Be Richmond's Mayor


Byline: Christina Bellantoni, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

RICHMOND - Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder is reviewing the city's budget and quietly looking for a candidate for chief administrator as he mounts a campaign for mayor.

Several residents say they will run in the Nov. 2 election, but Mr. Wilder, 73, is moving with the confidence of someone who has already been sworn in as Richmond's first popularly elected mayor.

"I'm not waiting for a transition team," Mr. Wilder told The Washington Times during an interview at his office at Virginia Commonwealth University this week. "I'm in the process of doing it on my own. I won't have the luxury of the first 100 days. I'll hit the ground running."

The ground he plans to hit running was staked out, tilled and landscaped by none other than himself: Mr. Wilder was instrumental in changing the city's electoral process for mayor, in making the office less ceremonial and more authoritative, and in generating support for the changes.

In the process, the Democratic maverick teamed with Virginia Republicans and fought off a legal challenge brought by a black Democratic congressman who said that allowing the mayor's popular election could leave Richmond with a chief executive who isn't black.

Dressed in a tan suit and cowboy boots, Mr. Wilder said he thrives on being told that the odds of accomplishing anything are insurmountable. He said over the years he was told he would never be elected to state office.

"I love proving the cynics wrong," said Mr. Wilder, who became the country's first black governor in 1990. "I love it more to be an example for those other grim spirits who need a push."

Last year, Richmond voters approved by a 4-to-1 ratio a referendum calling for the mayor's popular election - a measure that Mr. Wilder had pushed for, with help from former Rep. Thomas Bliley, a Republican.

Opponents of the referendum had said it would weaken black voters' political power, and state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, Richmond Democrat, even said it would incite a "race war."

Rep. Robert C. Scott, the state's only black congressman and a Democrat, challenged the referendum as a violation of the Civil Rights Act, but the Justice Department approved the measure last month.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wilder, who serves as a distinguished professor at VCU (where, in May, the VCU board of visitors approved the naming of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs), wouldn't reveal his possible choices for the new position of city administrator, but he said he is weighing the options.

The city administrator, who will be appointed by the new mayor, would replace City Manager Calvin D. Jamison, who currently oversees Richmond's day-to-day operations.

Mr. Wilder warned the Richmond City Council not to vote on any proposed amendments to the city's 2004-05 budget until a new mayor is elected.

"There should be a moratorium because things will change with the new mayor," he said. "We can't proceed further. We are going to have a different set of priorities."

He also is meeting with officials, including state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, to address youth violence in the city that has about 200,000 residents. He thinks the attorney general and the commonwealth attorney's office should work with police to reduce violent crime.

Mr. Wilder is no stranger to reaching across party lines. …

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Wilder Set to Hit Ground 'Running'; Former Governor Expects to Be Richmond's Mayor
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