Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Doug Wilder: Jekyll or Hyde

Watching Doug Wilder is so interesting because you never know which Wilder you’re going to get. Will it be the mild mannered benevolent Uncle Doug, who we all love? Or will it be the nasty dictatorial His Excellency, who drives many of us up the wall?

For a while, since the disastrous Friday night invasion of Richmond Public School offices, Mr. Wilder has been in the Uncle Doug mode. He appears to be nice to everybody. He schedules all these photo ops that show him smiling and shaking hands. He makes a brilliant appointment (Sheila Hill-Christian) for Chief Administrative Officer, replacing Harry Black who the City Council refused to confirm. He seems so anxious to let bygones be bygones and work productively with the City Council. However, based on Michael Martz’s front page article in today’s TD, it appears that Uncle Doug is on the way out and His Excellency is coming back.

In his article (, Mr. Martz points out that Mr. Wilder is no longer interested in working peacefully with City Council. Mr. Martz quotes Mr. Wilder as saying,
“I’ve extended all the olive branches I intend to extend. . . I’ve been told I’m supposed to be conciliatory—you’ve seen all you’re going to see of me being conciliatory.”
To prove his point, according to Mr. Martz, the mayor accused the City Council of turning back the clock on black political representation. He noted that the black majority on the council had been replaced by a white majority. Although Mr. Wilder found “nothing wrong” with a white majority, he accused the council of “turning back the clock” because the council’s only black male has a vote on only one council committee. (It’s appropriate that Mr. Wilder did not object to the white majority since he supported a white candidate running against a black incumbent in last year’s election). Martz’s article indicates that the mayor’s comments were aimed at City Council President Bill Pantele.

Am I mistaken, or is His Excellency the Mayor rolling out the race card in his renewed battle against the council? Those of you who were watching Mr. Wilder’s 1985 run for Lieutenant Governor or read “When Hell Freezes Over"(which tells the story of how a boy from Brooklyn was able to get a state senator from Richmond elected as the Commonwealth’s first African American Lieutenant Governor), know that the race issue is not new for Mr. Wilder. In the 1985 campaign Mr. Wilder frequently used his race and the accusation of racism to blunt attacks on him for having been disciplined by the Virginia Bar or for acting like a slum lord with respect to his rental properties in River City. No matter what issues were raised against him in that campaign, Mr. Wilder’s standard defense was that he was being accused only because he was black. By the end of the campaign, Mr. Wilder and his strategist Paul Goldman had convinced most Virginia voters that if they voted against him they would be perceived as racists. The result was that Doug Wilder won the election.

Can it be that His Mayorship is planning to run for reelection next year and is starting to use the race issue now just in case his opponent turns out be Mr. Pantele? Could Mr. Wilder be planning a campaign based on the entitlement of an African American majority in the city to an African American mayor? I would really hate to see this city suffering through a mayoral election in which race was a major issue.

On the other hand…

I just finished reading Mr. Wilder’s holiday message in this week’s Vision Newsletter ( It seems that Uncle Doug is back. Uncle Doug tells us about his unannounced visit to Fairfield Court Elementary School and how well he was treated by school principal Dr. Irene Williams. (This maven is not so egotistical to think that Mr. Wilder was following my advice to him on December 7 that he spend some of his time in Richmond’s public schools.) In talking of the school and Dr. Williams, Mr. Wilder says,
"This highly-motivated and selfless devotion to cause and to duty impressed me beyond measure. Here is a school in the shadow of public housing units portraying to all who would care that yes, these young people can learn. They can show that it doesn't matter where you were born or your economic status - you can achieve and overcome and become outstanding contributing citizens."
He concludes with
"The holiday season represents a time of love, joy, remembrance and reflection. Amid the food, decorations and festivities, it is also a time to look ahead and envision the means toward a brighter future for our community."

Just when I was getting really mad with Mr. Hyde, Uncle Doug uses his Dr. Jekyll to make me love him again (at least for the moment). Didn’t I tell you that Doug watching was so much fun?

1 comment:

Preston M. Yancy said...

It takes a unique sense of humor to be amused by Mr. Wilder. He has blown a golden opportunity with his antics, and he now says he will continue in the same vein. If Richmond continues to tolerate this, it deserves what it gets.
Preston M. Yancy