The Virginia capital city's freshman mayor was on a roll. Sitting in a plush chair at City Hall, he waved his hand toward Broad Street two stories below him and ticked off the recent spats with public officials and private interests who have bristled over the style and substance of his first eight months in office.

"They've made me out to be the bad guy, but somebody's got to shake things up around here," said L. Douglas Wilder, the former governor of Virginia who in November became Richmond's first popularly elected mayor in more than 50 years.

First, the Democrat recounts, there was the protracted standoff with the City Council, which almost landed him in court. Next, the open antagonism with the elected School Board and the threats to withhold funds from the system.

And then the squabble with the high-rolling Richmond business community -- which just last year pushed for his election -- as he refused to back several projects, including a downtown performing arts center. He has also publicly argued with the owners of a minor league baseball team that wants a new stadium.

"I guess they thought I was going to just sit around and cut ribbons, that I wouldn't have the energy to do what I've been doing," said Wilder, 74. "But I've got a job to do and only four years to do it."

Wilder's message -- "I will not let taxpayer money be wasted" -- and his method -- he has fired nearly a dozen department heads, a city manager and police chief while eliminating a handful of agencies -- amount to a bare-fisted pounding of Richmond's establishment.

For some around Richmond, the Wilder approach is a needed cleansing to help purge the city of its troubled past. Others see it as the egocentric machination of a politician who is incapable of anything but conflict and drama. Then there are those who see it as a combination of both.

"He's treating this like he's Harry Truman; the buck stops with him," said Thomas J. Bliley (R), a former U.S. representative from Richmond -- and former mayor of the city. "He's doing what he's supposed to . . . getting in there and cleaning City Hall up."

"I think, on balance, it's what the city needs right about now," said Raymond H. Boone, publisher of the Richmond Free Press, the local black newspaper. "But some of these situations could have been handled a little differently."

The paper supported Wilder's candidacy but in editorials has called some of his decisions "arrogant" and "twaddle."

For the mayor, who for much of his professional life has thrived on drawing the attention and inspiring the passion of others, it's all in the name of changing a city government that has been racked with corruption and a city that has been racked by violence, largely underperforming public schools and pockets of stultifying poverty.

"I know a lot of people are wondering . . . what's the old bastard going to do next?" he said, chuckling.

Wilder is known worldwide as a historic figure -- the nation's first and only elected black governor. But around the state capital, he's remembered for historic personal disputes with members of his own party that many say crippled his administration and diminished his legacy.

For that reason, many who have gone up against Wilder have said that none of the early thrashing around has been a surprise.

"An awful lot of people supported him on the way to get him there, so to anybody who's complaining about decisions he's been making: This is what you wanted," said G. Manoli Loupassi (R), a council member since 2000 who now serves as the vice mayor.

But, Loupassi added, "I sure wish I knew where he was going with all of this."

It didn't start off this way.

Wilder received nearly 80 percent of the vote in November after Richmonders changed the city charter so they could elect their own mayor for the first time since 1944. Bliley had helped Wilder put the change before voters in 2003.

In January, the new mayor, wearing a tailored tuxedo and cowboy boots, hosted a swanky inaugural ball at a downtown hotel.

He got the General Assembly to modify the city charter it had approved only 14 months earlier to give him even more power, including veto power over council actions and broad authority over the city budget. Later, Wilder's first initiatives -- to lower the bus fare and to establish a "pothole brigade" -- were happily received by the City Council.

Since then, Wilder has looked like a man testing how strong a strong mayor can really be in this city of nearly 200,000.

In May, he and the council had a showdown over the budget. Wilder accused the council of "a gross failure in judgment" for supporting several projects backed by business leaders. The council responded by threatening to sue Wilder and his deputy for not ratifying its budget.

The council was particularly aggrieved by Wilder's nine-member security detail and by his decision to pay his top adviser a $145,000 salary and his nephew a $61,000 salary.

The spat with the council was resolved, and each side got most of what it wanted, but Wilder began criticizing the organizers of a project to create a performing arts center downtown. Many of those people had been avid supporters and contributors to his campaign.

He refused to follow through on a pledge made by the previous council and city manager to allocate $27 million unless the center's board fails to come up with the private funding it said it could raise. He called the project "a shell game."

"I'm perplexed and think a lot of people are perplexed about what's bugging him," said Philip J. Bagley III, a Richmond native who sits on the board of the performing arts center and is a partner in a prominent Richmond law firm. "Doug has always had a particular confrontational style of politics dealing with the world, but if you're on the wrong end of that style, it's not particularly fun."

Wilder has stepped up his criticism of the city's School Board, which he said has mismanaged spending and failed to control truancy. Scores on the state's Standards of Learning tests have risen, and many city schools are accredited, but Wilder has largely ignored such evidence of progress.

"It's been very, very disappointing thus far," said Carol A.O. Wolf, a School Board member who has been one of the few public officials in the city to take on Wilder in public. "He's governing like a dictator, and what we need is a consensus builder. Someone who builds, not tears down. Doug only knows how to tear down."

But Wilder and his steadfast supporters cite his strong poll numbers -- 70 percent approval ratings, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch -- as evidence that the person on the street agrees with Wilder's path.

"I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and said: 'Psst, hey, Doug, keep on doing what you're doing,' " Wilder said from his office, a three-minute walk down Broad Street from his former digs at the governor's mansion. "I have four years to do the best job I can do, and however that's viewed is however history records it."

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, center, of Richmond and guests mark the opening of an office building. The former governor has squabbled with the business community.Fred W. Palmore III, left, a lawyer, and Mayor L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond tour a new office building. "Somebody's got to shake things up," Wilder says of his governing approach.