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Wilder's Dual Role Raises Questions

For example, will VCU receive special treatment when downtown development issues arise? What happens if VCU submits controversial building plans that require tearing down MCV's West Hospital? When, if ever, should Wilder recuse himself?

Following a press conference on VCU's campus Dec. 6, Wilder declined to discuss the matter. "No one has raised that issue to me," he said, adding that "I don't know what I'm going to do" about the VCU job after taking office. His next class is scheduled for the fall semester 2005.

Wilder raised eyebrows at Mayor Rudy McCollum's job as assistant to the president for government affairs and public policy at Virginia Union University. In a July 2002 commentary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he wrote:

"We now have a situation where Mayor Rudy McCollum has hired himself out to Virginia Union University, asserting that he has the time to do the Council's business without job interference. He vows to work for, advocate and push an agenda for his new employer, but says he will abstain from actually voting on VUU-related measures that come before the Council, whatever they are, in an attempt to avoid a conflict of interests [sic]. He doesn't understand that engaging in any of those activities is a conflict."

As a "distinguished professor," according to VCU, Wilder teaches one public policy class in the fall for annual pay of $100,000.

There are other connections. He teaches in a building that bears his name: The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Insiders say he is close with VCU President Eugene P. Trani, a powerful personality in his own right. And recently, Deputy City Manager William Harrell, coordinator of the Wilder transition team, moved into a temporary office at VCU across the hall from Wilder's.

A university spokesperson says VCU is negotiating with Wilder to reduce his responsibilities and his annual pay, while he serves as mayor.

"The issue should not be about Doug Wilder. But is it appropriate for the mayor of a city to have connections like this?" asks Andrew Wicks, associate professor of business administration and co-chair of the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Virginia. "The question is, When does it become a problem?"

Holding the VCU job while serving as mayor doesn't appear to violate any city or state laws. But it could send the wrong message, some say, especially since Wilder's campaign for mayor promised to weed out corruption and restore integrity to City Hall. "Anybody who says this is not an issue, that strikes me as foolish," Wicks says.

Larry Sabato, a political science professor at U.Va., says many state lawmakers work in the communities they represent. "As far as I know it doesn't violate any ethical standards or the various codes of conduct that apply here," he says of Wilder's professorship.

But the issue "bears watching," Sabato says. "Let's be honest: State universities … do pretty much what they want to do if they can get the cooperation of the local governing body," he says. "And clearly Wilder is VCU's mayor."

The relationship is causing a stir in some corners at VCU, although few people are willing to speak publicly.

John V. Moeser, professor of urban politics at VCU and a chief architect of the new city charter that goes into effect in January, isn't pleased. But Moeser, who works in the same building as Wilder, carefully chooses his words:

"VCU is a major player in economic development in this city, and Gov. Wilder has been an even bigger player when it comes to the political transformation of the city. This mutual need for each other can be satisfied without a contractual tie," Moeser says. "I think it would be in the best interests of the university and the mayor-elect if the contractual agreement would be dissolved so that it would put to rest any questions of impropriety and protect the integrity of each party." — Scott Bass

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