A May 30 Metro article incorrectly said that former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder resigned from the board of trustees at Virginia Commonwealth University. Wilder resigned from the board at Virginia Union University. (Published 5/31/04)
Former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder announced plans yesterday to return to politics and run for mayor of his native Richmond.
Wilder's bid is made possible under a restructuring of the city's government that he helped lead and promote. In November, voters approved a change to the city's charter that would allow them, instead of the City Council, to directly elect a mayor.
"When we decided to help lead a citizens' effort to help make Richmond all it could be, I had no intention or even the slightest thought of running again for any elected office," Wilder, 73, said in a statement released yesterday. "In all of these efforts and conversations, I have spoken of the need to bring the city together. We can't build a new city on the old divisiveness. . . . All of those who have talked with me and urged me to run for mayor have underscored the unique opportunity we have to bring the city together."
Reached at his home in Charles City County yesterday evening, Wilder refused to elaborate. "The statement speaks for itself. I've got some people here," he said, hanging up the phone.
A former adviser said Wilder, who served in the Korean War, made a deliberate choice to release his statement this holiday weekend.
"One of the reasons he did this Memorial Day weekend was because you have to do something for your country and for your state," said Paul Goldman, a Democratic activist who worked in the Wilder administration. "He said, 'People have asked me to make a sacrifice, and I am willing to do it.' "
Before Wilder can officially declare his candidacy, he must return to Richmond and establish residence. Friends and colleagues said Wilder has often lamented the decline of Richmond, his birthplace and home for about six decades, including his term as governor from 1990 to 1994.
"I remember driving around with him, and we went out to lunch and visited all the places where he grew up to see what it has turned into," said Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of politics at Virginia Commonwealth University. "He has a pretty deep passion about Richmond. It goes beyond the interest in being the mayor."
As a politician, Wilder, the nation's first and only elected black governor, had an image as outspoken and often combative, leading him to occasionally break ranks with his own party. He sparred with Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) over Warner's tax increase proposal and said he would never have endorsed Warner for governor had he known about his plans.
Most recently, Wilder, the grandson of slaves, has been involved in the establishment of a slavery museum in Fredericksburg. Last fall, he resigned from the board of trustees of Virginia Commonwealth University over "the inability to get a full and accurate picture of the school's true financial condition."
As governor, Wilder was lauded for initiating a measure to limit handgun purchases to one per month, appointing a record number of minorities and women and balancing Virginia's budget during a recession. He ran for president briefly in 1992.
In recent years, Richmond, a city of about 195,000, has grappled with poverty, high crime and corruption in government. Two City Council members have been convicted of bribery and tax evasion within the past year.
The change in mayoral elections becomes law July 1, the first day candidates can begin soliciting signatures from voters to get their names on the November ballot. The change in the charter is pending approval by the U.S. Justice Department.
Richmond's races for City Council are nonpartisan, although political parties and interest groups back slates of candidates. Richmond's current mayor, Rudolph C. McCollum Jr., has said he plans to run. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
School Board member Charles Nance has also announced intentions to run for mayor. Yesterday, he issued a statement reacting to Wilder's announcement. "It is great news for the City of Richmond that we will have a choice," he said, "and that we have many qualified candidates who care about our city."
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.