It's not freezing yet, but it's getting colder. Paul Goldman, it turns out, has become the man to beat in the increasingly testy 1st District City Council race.
He's cleaned up nicely, regularly slapping a comb through his famously unruly mop and strapping on a tie for his door-to-door stump circuit. And he just got some good news: The master strategist and longtime political aide to Mayor L. Douglas Wilder is leading the five-way race in the Fightin' 1st.
"Here's the headline: ABG, Anybody But Goldman," he crows, doing his best to maintain his underdog status. "I expect a whole bunch of people to get behind one person to try and stop me. They know I am the one person who will speak up for the people."
In a confidential poll commissioned by several business and civic leaders including James Ukrop and Beverley W. "Booty" Armstrong, sources say Goldman is running with a slight lead over the four other candidates. The poll, conducted by local consulting firm Conquest Communications Group, was taken by phone Sept. 13. The sample size was 300 people, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.77 percent.
According to the poll, here's the breakdown: Goldman received 17.7 percent support; Bruce Tyler, 17 percent; Tom Vance, 9.3 percent; Dan Wilkins, 6.7 percent; and Mark Pounders, 3.3 percent. But 134 people, or 44.7 percent, were undecided.
Goldman and Tyler are in a virtual dead heat. But Goldman's lead, however slight, is a bit of a "shocker" says John V. Moeser, a professor of political science at the University of Richmond and longtime watcher of city politics.
"I really am baffled by how well he's doing" in the poll, Moeser says, adding that he hasn't followed the race closely. "He's always been the strategist and not the candidate. While often a brilliant strategist, he often comes across as scattered, just terribly scattered and quirky. And that often doesn't play well in the electoral process."
But something appears to be working. Goldman's message is resonating, and the business community is taking notice. Goldman may be quirky, but he's renowned as an "indefatigable campaigner" with amazing name recognition, one business leader says.
Goldman is also well-regarded as the chief architect behind Wilder's City of the Future plan, billing himself as the only candidate who has actually come up with possible solutions to the city's problems. Wilder may have cut ties with Goldman Goldman was forced to resign as Wilder's senior policy adviser after accepting a consulting fee from Gov. Tim Kaine during his bid for governor but that may turn out to be an asset rather than a liability.
In that same Sept. 13 poll, potential voters were asked, "Would you prefer your City Council member be supportive of Mayor Wilder's plans or be independent enough to oppose the mayor if he disagrees?"
A whopping 86 percent opted for "independent."
In another interesting twist, the candidate widely perceived as being aligned with Wilder, Mark Pounders, is running dead last. Some say that Pounders' poor showing has much to do with his formerly antagonistic relationship with a well-liked street vendor (see "Street Talk," page 7).
Winning the 1st, the wealthiest City Council district, is particularly important to the business community, which has become discouraged by Wilder's confrontational style and perceived unresponsiveness to economic-development issues.
In particular, business leaders behind the stalled performing arts center are still fuming over that debacle. The 1st District, some say, represents the best opportunity to install a candidate favorable to the business interests.
The seat is held by G. Manoli Loupassi, who also serves as City Council president and is regarded as a solid fundraiser. Loupassi, who gained a reputation for confronting the mayor when others wouldn't, is stepping down this year to challenge Delegate Katherine B. Waddell for her 68th District seat in the General Assembly.
So far, Tyler is leading the pack in terms of fundraising, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. He's raised $33,338 and spent $9,356. He's expected to raise considerably more in the coming months, however, as the campaign heats up. (He held his second fundraiser last week.)
Tom Vance has raised $27,153, and Goldman has pulled in $25,275. Despite the perception that Goldman's campaign has been largely grassroots, as of Sept. 15 he had spent more than any other candidate, $18,671.
Expect that to change, however, in the wake of the poll.
Tyler acknowledges the business community's increasing support of his candidacy, but dismisses that he's the "business community's candidate."
"I respect that, and I'm very happy to have that support," Tyler says. "I am getting support from a broad brush of folks."
Indeed, but for now Tyler appears to be the go-to candidate for business leaders. Sources say that during the next few weeks, the business leaders backing Tyler plan to meet with the remaining candidates Vance, Wilkins and Pounders and encourage them to drop out of the race.
Goldman, the master strategist, says he expected this all along. "They are trying to justify a 'Stop Goldman' movement," he says. "I always expected it going in." S