The conversation inevitably turned to Mayor L. Douglas Wilder during the debate last week among candidates for the 68th District House of Delegates, a district that encompasses parts of Richmond and Chesterfield County.
Bill Grogan, an independent challenger to incumbent Katherine Waddell, asked the 100 or so people gathered in the green-and-gold sanctuary of St. Luke Lutheran Church, "Wouldn't it be nice if we had a mayor that lived in the city of Richmond?"
He's referring to the widely held belief that while the mayor still owns his Charles City County home, he rents an apartment in the city only to meet residency requirements for his job. "Maybe we can get him out on a technicality," Grogan says.
So, technically, does Wilder reside in the city?
Wilder bought his own little piece of Richmond this summer -- July 18, to be exact. That's the recorded date for his purchase of unit 601 in the Vistas on the James condo tower in Shockoe Bottom. Wilder bought the riverfront condo for $386,000.
Grogan's confusion is forgivable. Wilder's multiple residences also came up during the Sept. 26 hearing in which a judge ruled that the School Board could remain at City Hall until the end of November. Chief Financial Officer Harry Black said under oath that the reason he could not put schools attorney Henry Marsh in touch with the mayor the night of the forced, surprise School Board move-out was that "the mayor has three, maybe two, residences right now," and was difficult to locate.
Indeed. Wilder still owns a four-bedroom, four-bathroom, two-fireplace, one-hot-tub home on 10 acres in Charles City County assessed at $808,500. He's registered to vote at a Cary Street apartment in Shockoe Bottom.
The mayor is required to be a legal resident of the city, City Registrar Kirk Showalter says. Many voters, she says, have more than one home. Legal residency is determined through a number of secondary evidences such as vehicle registration, jury duty and tax records.
"In general, unless it's challenged," Showalter says, "we accept that they put his legal residence there." Despite Grogan's cheap shot, she says, "nobody has challenged the mayor's residency."