- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2008

RICHMOND — Mayor L. Douglas Wilder said he identifies with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama”s fight against the Democratic machine, which he thinks is out of touch with voters.

“I think it is being witnessed in the African-American community, if you look at some of the older leaders who are saying, ‘No, it’s not your turn,’ ” Mr. Wilder told The Washington Times.

Mr. Wilder gave as examples Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon — three black leaders who are supporting Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

He said Mr. Obama’s ability to draw crowds and energize young voters makes people say, “Wait a minute, there is a disconnect here between voters and Democratic leaders.”

“It is not a racial appeal,” said Mr. Wilder, 77. “It is an appeal that reaches people of all kinds.”

Mr. Wilder, the grandson of slaves, made history in 1989 when he was elected as the country’s first black governor. He is still an influential voice in Virginia’s black community.

Mr. Wilder fought Virginia’s Democratic machine in 1985 when he ran for lieutenant governor.

Tomorrow, Democrats in Virginia, Maryland and the District will have the chance to vote to nominate a black or a woman for president.

Mr. Wilder bristled at comments made last month by former President Bill Clinton. Before the South Carolina primary, Mr. Clinton criticized Mr. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war as a “fairy tale.” After Mr. Obama won the primary in the largely black state, the former president attempted to cast the senator from Illinois as another Jesse Jackson.

“Barack Obama is not a fairy tale,” Mr. Wilder said Saturday night at the Democratic Party of Virginia’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Richmond. “He is real — the real deal.”

He also said of Mr. Clinton: “All of a sudden you come back in and put on the political armor and say, ‘OK I’m back to duke again. I’m Slick Willy.’ That is causing some people to rethink. And it has, in my judgment, hurt Hillary.”

Mr. Wilder said Mr. Clinton’s comments could hurt the party’s reach to black voters should his wife win the party’s nomination.

Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee told the Associated Press that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton “have tremendous respect for Governor Wilder. He has been a trailblazer who made it possible for both Senators Clinton and Obama to run for president.”

Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, said yesterday that Mr. Clinton’s comments offended some black voters but that the issue will die after a nominee is selected.

“There has been definitely some significant sensitivities about some of [Mr. Clinton’s] comments a month or so ago,” he said. “I don’t see those lasting until the fall.”


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