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Wilder Yes-Men Should Share Blame, Goldman Says

A poll commissioned by the Richmond Times-Dispatch revealing Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's tanking approval rating should come as no surprise, says Wilder's former one-man brain trust Paul Goldman.

It was an "Emperor's New Clothes" situation, he says. "Everyone was thinking it, but they were afraid to say it," Goldman says of a public that was just too discreet to tell the mayor that his 79 percent election mandate three years ago had eroded.

In the poll of 500 registered voters in Richmond -- conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research and commissioned by the Richmond Times-Dispatch — 35 percent of respondents said they would re-elect Wilder; 49 percent would opt for "someone new."

They should have seen it coming, Goldman says.

"They were afraid to say it because they [figured they] must be alone," he says of Wilder's advisers, who did their boss the supreme disservice of not disagreeing with him when his planned acts — like forcibly kicking the School Board out of City Hall — weren't always the best decisions. "This is the first poll to say it," he says: "The business community says everything is fine? Well, we don't agree."

Despite the almost embarrassingly revealing snapshot of Wilder's political exposure, Goldman says he's not ready to count out the mayor come November 2008.

"He's never found himself anywhere like this," Goldman says. "If the election was next week, then you'd say he's got trouble."

But it's not, and "he should look at this poll as a gift from the Richmond Times-Dispatch," Goldman says. "They've basically said wait a minute, hold on, whoa!"

That should give Wilder time — if he's motivated and can get beyond his current power grab, Goldman says — to turn things around.

The bigger question, naturally, is whether Wilder will run for a second term. He has hinted strongly in the past that he will, but in light of recent actions, that's up in the air. Some people think Sheila Hill-Christian, tapped by Wilder to replace Harry Black as chief administrative officer, may have joined the fracas with an eye for the mayor's job.

Wilder confidante and teaching partner Bob Holsworth, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, was overheard recently voicing his opinion that Wilder would ultimately decline a second term.

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