RICHMOND, JULY 21 -- Mark Cummings asked Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder for a job today.

Angela Whitehead sought his autograph.

And 75-year-old Henrietta Cooke, who knew the governor and his parents when the chief executive was a teenager, walked slowly into a crowded conference room to ask the family friend for assistance in fighting the City of Richmond.

People carried ideas, complaints, concerns and encouragement to the governor's offices on the third floor of the state Capitol here today, as Wilder conducted the first in a series of open houses.

The meeting came on the heels of critical stories concerning Wilder's penchant for national travel, his reluctance to discuss his use of the state helicopter and jet for personal trips, and his unwillingness to disclose his inauguration expenses.

But those topics were barely mentioned during Wilder's meeting with the public.

As Thomas Jefferson looked down from a floor-to-ceiling portrait, stiff-necked, glum-looking bodyguards -- members of the state police executive protection unit -- stood near the governor for what turned out to be a three-hour photo opportunity punctuated by moments of serious discussion and levity.

Many of the people simply came to shake the hand of the nation's first elected black governor and have their pictures taken with him.

A governor's aide kept a stack of black-and-white photos of Wilder available for signed souvenirs. Staff photographer Ken Soper busily snapped dozens of pictures either with his own camera or one brought by individual visitors.

Yesterday's meeting ran from 10 a.m. to about 1 p.m., an hour longer than scheduled. Approximately 124 people attended in roughly 60 groups, ranging from one person to 10 at a time.

Wilder, who will have another open house Aug. 11 in the same location and then stage other meetings throughout the state, said the event was both symbolic and useful.

"Many of these questions are laced in frustration," Wilder told reporters during a break in the proceedings. "I wanted to show the availability of this administration . . . . It's a question of showing people that we care."

The personal pleas ran from job loss to charges of discrimination. Wilder also dealt with broader questions on issues such as abortion, his views on the Middle East, family values and the drug problem.

When asked what he will do about protecting unborn Virginians, Wilder defended his stand in favor of abortion rights and urged those who oppose abortion to show the same concern for people "after they are born."

Adeeb Hamzey, of the Richmond chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, complained about Wilder's comments before the American Israel Political Affairs Committee concerning the governor's call for an undivided Jerusalem serving as the capital of Israel.

Wilder complimented Hamzey on the civility he showed when venting his opposition and said he favors "equal status and equal access" for all religious communities.

When a woman from California said she had heard the governor was going to visit her state this week, Wilder cut her off as he burst into laughter: "Be quiet," he said. "I just left there."

On another occasion, an employee with the state Department of Motor Vehicles asked Wilder if he would visit that office, adding, "We know when you come and go because we hear your helicopter." Wilder laughingly cringed and said he would take the car to visit her office.

A minister from a local church brought a list of dates for the governor to come and speak to his congregation.

But the person who stole the show was 8-year-old Broderick Dunn, from Dale City in Prince William County. Broderick said he saw the open house publicized on television Friday night and wanted to ask the governor, "How can I make the state better?"

"Get as smart as you can become and go beyond that, and don't let anyone stop you," said the governor. "You will have a chance to do all the things you want."

Then he signed the third-grader's T-shirt and plopped him in the governor's chair at the head of the table.