He wears black boots and trousers paired with a royal-blue dress shirt, red silk tie and navy silk sport coat. He’s empty-handed when he arrives at his office at Virginia Commonwealth University, and for a moment it makes him seem carefree.
“I’ve been recollecting about my past,” he says. It’s brought to mind Emerson and Robespierre and, naturally, the James River. The river is mighty, inspiring and begins and ends in the commonwealth, he notes.
There’s something about Wilder that appears tired or missing — or sad. People have the wrong idea about politics, he says, and it confounds him. To young hopefuls who tell him they want to run for office he asks incredulously: “All right. Have you gotten your life together? What have you done? Where is your experience?”
It’s a matter of understanding what it means to represent a constituency, he says, and the usual suspects in Richmond just don’t get it.
Somewhere along the line — say 20, 25 years ago — the city had a chance to get on course, turn bad government into good and move on, he contends. Instead, he saw it deteriorate into mediocrity, if not utter failure. “I’ve seen the city drifting and drifting and drifting, and the bar lowered and lowered again,” he says.
Five years ago Wilder says he convened a meeting at Virginia Union University and invited 22 guests, mostly members of the established black leadership in Richmond. He says he told them it was time they got their act together and “straighten up.” Among those who turned out, he recalls, were Richmond City Manager Calvin Jamison, Commonwealth’s Attorney David Hicks, Delegate Viola Baskerville, state Sen. Benjamin Lambert and Richmond Free Press Editor Ray Boone. But when someone asked how they’d establish credibility, Wilder concluded they’d missed the point. He never assembled the group again.
Still, times change and legacies soften. “I don’t want to be mayor to be a mayor,” Wilder asserts. The only office that could top being governor of Virginia, he says, is being president of the United States. But the next minute he speaks of the new mayor post as a “unique opportunity,” adding: “I haven’t seen this much excitement and involvement in a long, long time.”
The question is: Is Wilder in it to win it? He hasn’t officially announced his candidacy yet — only his intentions, he stresses. So if a candidate emerges that talks like Wilder and walks like Wilder — someone Wilder would back — the real Wilder would drop out. — Brandon Walters
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