- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

RICHMOND — L. Douglas Wilder, who 15 years ago became the only black man ever elected governor, returned to the ballot in his hometown yesterday and easily won election yesterday as Richmond’s first popularly elected mayor since the 1940s.

Mr. Wilder, 73, thus becomes only the fourth former U.S. governor since World War II to later be elected as mayor, having beaten incumbent Mayor Rudy McCollum in a contest marked by bitter exchanges.

His perspective on winning in his hometown, however, was more personal and poignant, evoking his own boyhood as the grandson of slaves.

“I know as a boy growing up, believing that things could happen and change could take place, and when youngsters, to me, today look down in terms of what their aspirations are and what they can and cannot be, I would say to them, ‘You had far more than I ever had. You can never look down on yourself,’” Mr. Wilder said in his victory speech.

While his 1989 election as governor was historic, being elected mayor was more humbling, he said.

“This is very emotional. Being elected governor of a state is such a tremendous opportunity, but when you win election citywide for the first time in Richmond — well, to be the recipient of that is a very tremendous honor,” he said in an interview.

Mr. McCollum and two other candidates, Lawrence E. Williams and Charles Nance, together had only a fraction of the campaign treasury Mr. Wilder mustered or the celebrity muscle Mr. Wilder flexed to bring actor Bill Cosby to Richmond at the height of the campaign.

With 58 of 69 precincts reporting, Mr. Wilder had 43,809 votes (79 percent); Mr. McCollum, 6,246 votes (11 percent); Mr. Nance, 4,621 votes (8 percent); and Mr. Williams 861(2 percent).

Mr. Wilder, who held his governorship as a Democrat, had complained publicly for years of declining downtown commerce, one of the country’s highest homicide rates, and government riddled with corruption. A half-dozen city officials, including a former mayor, have gone to federal prisons in the past decade.

Richmond’s 56-year-old form of government, in which the City Council selects a largely ceremonial mayor from its ranks, was impossibly slow responding to urgent problems of crime and economic stagnation, Mr. Wilder argued.

In 2003, Mr. Wilder teamed with Republican former U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr., who was once Richmond mayor, to promote a charter change creating a strong, popularly elected mayor for the capital city of 195,000.

Many black leaders, including Mr. McCollum, called it a racist scheme to restore white rule to a city that’s 57 percent black. By a 4-to-1 ratio, however, Richmond voters approved the change last fall.

Since leaving the governor’s office in 1994, Mr. Wilder had led a leisurely life as a college lecturer, a newspaper columnist, a lawyer and, when he had time, pilot of his own yacht.

After announcing his candidacy in May, Mr. Wilder began a populist campaign promising to clean house at City Hall, crack down on violent street gangs, bring the city’s poor schools to a par with their affluent suburban rivals, make the city more attractive to business development and even reduce bus fares.

Almost without trying, Mr. Wilder amassed $365,000 and had spent only one-third of it as of Oct. 20, campaign-finance reports show. Mr. McCollum raised only $44,000; Mr. Nance, $58,000; and Mr. Williams less than $700. Mr. McCollum argued that Mr. Wilder’s windfall made him a tool of monied interests inside and outside Virginia.

Last month, Mr. Cosby toured four Richmond public schools and addressed students with his old friend Mr. Wilder at his side. Both men insisted it was not linked to the campaign, but the visit dominated local news coverage and dramatically illustrated Mr. Wilder’s advantage.

Mr. Wilder gained national fame in 1990 when he took his oath of office outside the Capitol that was once the seat of the Confederacy. He briefly ran for president in 1992.

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