RICHMOND, JAN. 23 -- Virginia Lt. Gov. L. Douglas Wilder moved a step closer to becoming an announced candidate for governor tonight by hosting a pair of "birthday parties" that netted more than $100,000 for his potential campaign.
About 500 people paid $100 each to dance to the music of the Four Tops at the Richmond Convention Centre at the second half of the Wilder celebrations. Comedian Dick Gregory, who led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday" to Wilder, said, "People keep asking me if he is going to run for governor. I tell them, 'No, the people who called me said he's going to run for president.' "
In brief remarks to 200 people at a $1,000-a-plate dinner in Richmond's war memorial carillon, Wilder made no reference to any political ambitions, but earlier in an interview, he said, "A birthday party can serve as an illustration, and an appreciation."
Virginia's Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, who earlier in the day stepped up her own noncampaign for governor by endorsing Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D) for president, was a guest of Wilder's at a reception preceding the dinner.
Terry didn't stay for the steak Diane and lobster tail dinner, but another nonpaying guest, Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, did.
Baliles toasted the lieutenant governor for acting in the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by "standing against the wind for what he believes.
"That's why I like him," the governor said.
The governor is taking no chances about indicating support for either member of his precedent-breaking Democratic ticket of 1985 -- Wilder is the first black to win statewide office in Virginia, and Terry the first woman.
So the governor drew laughs when he explained that he attended the event because when "I asked a friend where I should dine tonight, she suggested this impressive gathering. And I've got to thank Mary Sue for that."
Baliles also teased Wilder for having "more years of service to Virginia than I have, because he's a lot older than me." (Wilder turned 57 a week ago; Baliles is 47.)
Diners at the formal affair included a number of prominent black business leaders from Virginia and elsewhere, including Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise Magazine, and tennis star Arthur Ashe.
"There are a lot of different reasons why people are here," said Bruce Keeney, one of the many lobbyists in attendance. "This shows Wilder can raise money, and puts others who want to run against him at a disadvantage."
State Sen. J. Granger Macfarlane (D-Roanoke) was one of the guests whose intentions were clear: "I've been supporting Doug a long time; I want to help him become governor."