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L. Douglas Wilder

"Our youth are at-risk to what extent?" Wilder rhetorically asks and answers: "Education, crime, crime-on-crime, jobs — for some reason these things are not being addressed." Simply put, he says he plans to — in plain language and with aggressive, proven programs.

"In my judgment what's necessary is a more holistic approach to solving problems of education, public health and safety, and economic opportunity," he says. "That kids 2 or 3 years old could grow up lacking the resources to succeed is sickening to me. That you can have one school that outshines and outscores another is unacceptable to me." He recalls the stark contrast between two elementary schools — one old, one new — he recently toured.

Wilder says he'll propose more access to and improvement of the city's athletic facilities. He'll also launch programs in which retired teachers and professionals are enticed to come back into the schools to mentor, offering expertise at little or no additional cost.

Wilder says in one respect the city has been lucky in that it has relied heavily — to the tune of $50 million — on Virginia Commonwealth University to provide for its indigent care. It's time the city antes up its share, he says.

"My God, let's get real about educating our kids," he says. "Let's stop talking about open-air drug markets that Stevie Wonder could identify. We don't need any more lecturing. We need involvement."

He points to Wilder-Bliley II, the second-phase of the Wilder-Bliley Commission. The group comprises everyone from teachers to community activists to judges and has been studying issues throughout the campaign, Wilder says, so that if he's elected, action and implementation can immediately begin. And the juvenile part is the most pressing, Wilder says.

He's provoked by the need for reform in a place that ostensibly underwent change in the '50s and '60s. And he finds it ironic that he grew up in Richmond in the face of segregation, and that the city's youth today appear more disadvantaged than his generation. "Youngsters have lost the fight to survive, and it's one of the reasons they're turning on each other," he says.

Still, he says he's inspired when a little girl from Whitcomb Court comes up and hugs him. "Look at the life she's got to live," he remarks. "They're no longer at a point of being at-risk but at a point of experiencing deterioration from inside."

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