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Intimidating Call, Angry Outbursts: Wilder's Guerrilla PR

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Desperate times can lead to desperate actions. Just ask Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and his Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black.

In the wake of Wilder's aborted eviction of the School Board from City Hall Sept. 21, Wilder and Black have been on a public relations tear. Wilder launched a new series of town hall meetings -- "Do you really want change, or do you want to talk about it?" he asked at his first one — and penned an essay in the Richmond Times-Dispatch declaring that City Council lacks authority to pass certain ordinances.

Wilder's public campaign has taken a nasty tone behind the scenes.

On Oct. 4 — the day before Wilder announced his intent to nominate Sheila Hill-Christian as his new chief administrative officer — former Wilder confidante Paul Goldman says he received an intimidating phone call from Black.

Black warned Goldman with vague, shadowy references to lawsuits and other unspecified harm that might result from Goldman's recent blog posts about the mayor on NBC 12's Web site. Goldman says he took the call seriously.

Next came Wilder's surprise attendance at a City Council finance committee meeting Thursday, Oct. 18, where he shouted and threatened the council and its auditor, Umesh Dalal. Earlier in the day, Dalal had released a report finding that Black had acted inappropriately in withholding budgeted school money earlier this year.

On Friday, Wilder called a hasty press conference, the intended subject being part two of his rage over Dalal's findings. Wilder called off the press conference in an equally hasty fashion and remained sequestered with close aides in his office for most of the morning.

The cracks are beginning to show.

"I took it as a threat," Goldman says of the late-night call from Black. "And I think that's what it was intended as.

"He was basically talking about that he wasn't particularly happy with what I'd written and that other people — he didn't name them [but] used the word 'professionals' — they were very upset. [They] were urging him to take action against me," Goldman says. "A possible lawsuit was mentioned. He didn't say who they were. I asked him, you know, any specific complaints?"

Asked about the call, Black said only, "I have no comment on that."

His call on the eve of the Hill-Christian announcement strikes Goldman as odd, especially in retrospect. City Hall sources have said Black likely was among the last to know of Wilder's plans to replace him with the head of the Virginia Lottery. Sources say Black had spent the weeks following the attempted School Board eviction alternately justifying his actions and confiding that he feared he was about to be thrown under the political bus by Wilder.



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