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The Name Game

Already there’s a short list for Richmond’s elected mayor.


If it passes muster at the department, then Richmond will find itself playing “Mystery Date” — who’s behind the door?

It all depends on whom you ask. Style informally polled some city officials and part-time pundits to learn the names being bandied about.

There are the usual suspects already in office and at City Hall: Mayor Rudy McCollum, City Manager Calvin Jamison and City Council members Jackie Jackson and Manoli Loupassi.

There are politicians some would like see come out of retirement: former Delegates Jean Cunningham and Panny Rhodes, and former Councilman John Conrad.

Don’t forget the Richmond expatriates: former City Manager Robert Bobb and former Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver.

Or the standbys: former Richmond School Board member Marty Jewell, Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney David Hicks and School Board member Charles Nance. Businessman Jon King’s name has come up.

And though he lives not in Richmond but in Charles City, there’s the cheese, the Big Kahuna, El Jefe: elected-mayor activist and former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder.

Loupassi says his name must have made the list because of his recent fund-raiser in which supporters of the 1st District councilman gave $60,000 to his upcoming and so-far uncontested council campaign. “While I’m flattered, I have no interest in being mayor,” he says.

It’s equally easy, but also dicey, to guess who does. After more than a year spent challenging the city administration and its police force, insiders say Hicks doesn’t. Scratch Rhodes and Conrad, too, they say.

If you turned out for the city’s cleanup two weeks ago in the River District, you may have seen Jamison sporting his official “City Manager” jacket. Word is he had his own public relations crew that followed him around as he pitched in and cheered volunteers. Jamison declined to comment for this story.

Should we read between the lines?

Meanwhile a few city officials are telling themselves: It’s sometimes better to have the devil you know than the one you don’t.

And they’re wondering: Wouldn’t Wilder win?

Yes, they assure. But he’s too smart to run. Surely, after the controversy and the business of the push for an elected mayor, the first to hold the post will take heat from all sides, especially from City Council — heat that Wilder would rather apply himself.

“It’s interesting,” Wilder says of what will come. And, perhaps, not impossible to predict. He’s heard all the names, too.

More important than whether the mayoral candidate has lived in the city for a while, Wilder says, is his or her level of commitment to change it. Whoever is elected, he says, “should have to understand the need to reform. It’s not a matter of rearranging deck chairs on a ship.”

In light of the evolving political climate in the city, his now-famous Wilder-Bliley Commission that shepherded the at-large mayor issue has reemerged. He likes to think of it as Wilder-Bliley II, he explains. It’s functioning now to look comprehensively at what’s needed in a mayor, and what’s more, what’s needed in a city council.

Integrity, honesty and experience are what Wilder says Richmond’s elected mayor must have. When asked if he plans to run, he says he doesn’t even know what the logistical requirements are for mayor — and that shows his lack of interest in the job. He also says the commission won’t seek out or recruit a candidate to endorse.

But you never know.

Is it plausible that Richmond’s public schools will become the best in the nation, he asks? His answer: Wouldn’t it be nice if they measured up to those in the surrounding counties?

When asked again if he plans to run, he answers obliquely, laughing. There’s time for person not currently living in the city to move here or move back, he says, stressing that he doesn’t necessarily mean himself.

“Reform,” he says emphatically, adding: “Never underestimate the power of the people. They’re going to be pulling for a new administration.”

Could that new administration be headed by a deep-pocketed Michael Bloomberg type? Bloomberg was a media billionaire before he decided to run for mayor of New York. One likely local suspect ruled himself out.

Jim Ukrop laughed and said: “I would be a terrible mayor. I’m impatient and uncompromising.” S

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