- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

RICHMOND Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder yesterday endorsed Democratic candidate Mark R. Warner, saying he believed Mr. Warner wouldn't raise taxes if elected governor.
"I certainly wouldn't be endorsing anybody who I thought would be loose with our money, and who I thought would be out there wanting to raise our taxes," Mr. Wilder, the last Democrat to serve as governor, said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
The race for governor this year has come down to taxes. Republican Mark L. Earley charges that Mr. Warner can't be trusted on the issue, citing Mr. Warner's $2.25 billion transportation plan and its reliance on money from a sales-tax increase in Northern Virginia.
But Mr. Wilder said he trusts Mr. Warner a businessman who has made millions of dollars in the telecommunications industry both on taxes and on handling the state's finances as a whole. Mr. Wilder said Mr. Warner has shown he is the best person to take the state through the upcoming legislative session with a budget deficit that could top $500 million.
"I don't think that there's a question as to what is required and what is needed, and that is why I support, without hesitation, Mark Warner. I know that he'll be able to work with all people, the representatives of the people, and be mindful of the needs of the people," he said.
He said Mr. Earley's ability to do that might be hurt by his ties to Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican whom many lawmakers blame for the shortfall.
Mr. Wilder's support on budget matters carries some weight: When he took office in 1990, he faced a budget shortfall greater than the current one. He balanced the budget without tax increases and without hurting the state's bond ratings a feat only a few governors had managed.
Mr. Wilder also said he agrees with Mr. Warner's position on the sales-tax referendum, adding that it is right to give Northern Virginia residents a chance to vote to tax themselves.
"Ultimately, the people have to make the choice the voters need to see, and I think he's come through both debates strongly," he said.
Mr. Wilder said he will travel the state speaking with, and on behalf of, Mr. Warner. But the importance of his endorsement goes well beyond that.
As a political maverick who was the nation's first black elected governor, his support is coveted by Democrats, particularly because of the weight it carries with some of the state's black voters.
The best Republicans typically can hope for is that Mr. Wilder will stay neutral in a race, as he did in the 1997 race between Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Mr. Gilmore.
Mr. Wilder did endorse U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb last year in his unsuccessful campaign to be re-elected to a third term, although he waited until late in the season.
Earley spokesman David Botkins praised Mr. Wilder, but said his endorsement for Mr. Warner wasn't a surprise, since both were Democrats and Mr. Warner ran Mr. Wilder's campaign back in 1989.
Some had wondered whether Mr. Wilder would endorse Mr. Warner given that a month ago Mr. Wilder criticized the gubernatorial nominee for not supporting down-ticket Democrats enough including the campaign's only black candidate, Delegate A. Donald McEachin, who is running for attorney general.
During a debate he moderated last week, Mr. Wilder repeatedly demanded that Mr. Warner be more clear on the issue of taxes.
Yesterday, Mr. Wilder said he had an obligation to press Mr. Warner on the issue, but said he was satisfied with Mr. Warner's approach.
Mr. Wilder also called on Mr. Gilmore to brief both candidates on the projected budget situation now. But a Gilmore spokesman said the governor will brief the governor-elect after Nov. 6, when the financial picture will be much more certain.

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