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In Slight to Jones,Pastors Support Wilder Re-Election

A coalition of area pastors that in September voiced frustration with the administration of Mayor L. Douglas Wilder has had a holy change of heart.

The multi-denominational group, once frustrated to the point of trying to draft former Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney David Hicks to challenge Wilder, is in talks to endorse the mayor, says the Rev. Joe Ellison, the organization's spokesman.

The move is notable as much for its turnabout as for its decision against endorsing the Rev. Dwight C. Jones, who comes from the pastoral community's own ranks.

"They're not going to endorse Dwight Jones," Ellison says. "They think Doug is more experienced. He runs the city like he's still the governor -- and love him or hate him, Doug Wilder is an icon."

He's an icon the group believes can guide the city through some of its toughest problems, such as the city's racial divide, staggering deficiencies in public education and the need to replace the decrepit Richmond Jail.

"We don't think Dwight Jones can be more diverse than Doug Wilder," Ellison says. "Doug Wilder can pull from across all denominations and all racial lines."

That said, Ellison acknowledges that the coalition of pastors is having a more difficult time bridging divides.

During the push to draft Hicks, the loosely bound group swelled to more than 50 pastors from the metro area, representing some congregations with more than 1,000 members. But with Hicks' decision not to run, the group says it's faced with making a choice between Wilder — who has not announced his candidacy — and Jones. And its ranks have shrunk to fewer than 30.

"The pastors are pretty torn because they feel Wilder is the best shot," Ellison says, indicating that a final decision on the group's endorsement will come soon. "They want Doug to work on a new jail. They want Doug to back off on the School Board. If he can agree to some of those terms, the pastors will support Doug."

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