Virginia state Democratic Party Chairman Alan A. Diamonstein held an unannounced meeting last week of white Democratic legislators who voiced concern over the campaign of state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, a black who is running for lieutenant governor.
"There were negative things said about all the candidates" in statewide races next year, Diamonstein said today as he confirmed that the meeting was held in the General Assembly Building.
The participants said the 30-minute meeting centered on Wilder's candidacy and what some called the liberal image of Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis, the party's front-runner for governor next year.
Also discussed was the effect Del. Mary Sue Terry, a conservative, might have if she wins the party's nomination for state attorney general.
"A ticket of Davis-Wilder-Terry would be perceived as too liberal," said Arlington Del. Warren G. Stambaugh, who attended the meeting and is regarded as a liberal. He is supporting Del. Richard M. Bagley of Hampton for governor.
"This is not a stop-Wilder move," said Stambaugh. "There is some concern over the ticket. I want to emphasize it is not stop anybody."
Accounts of the meeting, which included conservative House Speaker A.L. Philpott, and which were first reported in the Roanoke Times and World News, have alarmed some blacks who see several recent moves by mostly moderate and conservative state legislators to play a larger role in the state party as a threat to the liberals, blacks and labor members who have dominated the party organization.
"There should have been some concern at the meeting about at least the appearance of exclusion of blacks in discussing a party issue that obviously affects blacks," said State Del. William P. Robinson, a leading black politician from Norfolk.
Diamonstein, a state legislator from Newport News and a close ally of Gov. Charles S. Robb, said the meeting did not purposely exclude blacks, five of whom serve in the 100-member House. He said someone attempted to call Robinson and that "there was no organized effort" to call everyone to the meeting, which occurred on the same day the Democratic House Caucus met.
"I can understand how Robinson feels," Diamonstein said. He said there would be more meetings and promised that blacks definitely would be included.
"The press has played this as a meeting to discuss Doug Wilder," Diamonstein said. "That's not true."
Several participants in the meeting said that while all prospective candidates were discussed, most of the discussion focused on Wilder.
Some party members have been hinting at changes in the party's nominating process since last summer's convention when the forces of presidential nomination candidate Jesse Jackson surprised many politicians by capturing a leading share of the convention delegates.
The issue over Republican victories and white flight from the party was raised publicly yesterday by Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews of Hampton, a moderate. He proposed making elected Democratic officials automatic delegates at the convention June 7 and called for a summit of top party leaders with Democratic Gov. Robb to discuss the party's future.
Davis today endorsed the summit idea but differed on how much power elected officials should be given.
The party's ruling Democratic Central Committee is meeting in Richmond tomorrow to take up proposals for the nominating convention in June and mass meeting to select delegates to the convention.
A leading member of the party's liberal wing, Ira M. Lechner of Arlington, cautioned today that the party should consider Wilder's candidacy carefully when asked about the growing debate over next year's statewide races.
"You are not a racist if you do not believe that Wilder does not make the strongest ticket," said Lechner, a vice chairman of the state party and former candidate for lieutenant governor.
"You have to make a decision based on reality. . . . It's still the most conservative state in the country," Lechner said.
Wilder was critical of party leaders who have declined to discuss the race issue publicly, saying it is being used against him unfairly. He has said that an attempt to force him off the ticket could lead to a massive defection of black voters, who make up about one-third of the state's typical Democratic vote.