"Our problems are microcosmic of what's taking place across the country," Wilder says. So he and his senior policy advisor, Paul Goldman, came up with a list of 10 issues pertaining to Richmond that they plan to put to the candidates, covering everything from why the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority uses its own private lawyers to why parents can't pull their kids out of dangerous schools.
"I want to know from each one, what can we realistically expect from you in terms of direct aid to the capital city?" Wilder explains.
Style caught up with Wilder to see whether he thinks it will be Democrat Tim Kaine, Republican Jerry Kilgore or the independent, Russ Potts, who wields the panache and believability it will take to win his support.
Style: How to you expect the candidates to respond to your concerns?
Wilder: Paul Goldman has met with representatives from Kilgore's camp and representatives from Kaine's camp and has been in communication with the Potts people. [Goldman's] envisionment was to meet with each of them privately to go over where we stood. Their responses will be made public; their observances will be made public. This is not a witch hunt geared toward saying one thing to one and hurting another.
This is not calculated for endorsement purposes. Would it be considered? Yes. But the calculation is based more on what the city needs.
So we're in a position to say [to the candidates]: Look, I can tell you, I'm speaking for the people of Richmond. If you're serious about making Richmond all that it can be because it is the capital city - in the absence of a thriving capital city, you're not going to have a thriving state. I don't care how you cut it. We've been fortunate to tread water but our treading days are coming to an end.
How would you describe the candidates' respective strengths and weaknesses?
In Kaine's case, he's worked in city government. He knows the operation of city government. He knows what we need. He knows what is necessary. He knows where we've been. He also knows where we need to go.
Kilgore's lived here long enough. He lived here while he worked in the attorney general's office, while he was the attorney general, and he lives here now.
Potts has been coming here long enough. He realizes I think his background in Winchester is such, he knows that while it's a smaller city, the problems we face are similar.
What about their weaknesses?
Well, we all have weaknesses. Rather than to describe any of it as strengths or weaknesses, I would just say that Kaine's involvement in City Council and as mayor establishes more of a record in terms of intention or inclination and more so than as lieutenant governor, because [the latter] is more of a ceremonial position. I've once described it as a vacuous position even though I've held it myself.
Kilgore has a record of position as attorney general. And Potts has a record as state senator. Relative to who has more of an awareness to the kinds of things I'm talking about with the city, the experience factor would lie in Kaine's favor. But the down side of that is the record would be there, too, in terms of as mayor and as councilman. What were the kinds of things that identified him?
You've repeatedly rebuked the previous city administration, an administration that Kaine was pivotal in bringing in.
I've pointed out even then, though, that on the council, he was one of nine. My biggest concern has been: You can't have someone who is inexperienced running government. And Mr. [Calvin] Jamison had no experience.
Having won a bid for governor, if you were to offer advice to Kilgore, Kaine and Potts, what would it be?
I would offer the same advice: There is an obligation to recognize the capital city is that which describes your state better than anything else. Fairfax is a lovely place with great people, but it doesn't define Virginia. If someone were to read tomorrow in the newspaper that Richmond's capital city has gone bankrupt, they would say, "God, what has happened in Virginia?" There's no reason now for Richmond not to prosper. The last eight months alone, you don't hear the 'us and them' in terms of race. That's past. Are there dregs of it around? Yes, there always will be. But for the very first time in its entire history the entirety of its history Richmond is now poised for all of its people to be at a pinnacle point.
Did you view Richmond differently when you were governor?
I certainly did. That's why I fought to do the kinds of things like I did ... [to] have it looking the way it should look. That's why I wanted to put an office building here at 9th and Broad What's over there now? Nothing!
I have great designs for what should take place and what Broad Street should look like. It's our main corridor. It's the only thing we've got in terms of projecting an image of what your main Main Street looks like. I want to see the James River area developed. I want to see the state committing and I want to see the federal government committing.
It sounds like you're saying previous governors over the past decade or so haven't done enough to put Richmond front and center.
I don't disagree. And that's why, on deference, I would like to have seen you put $8.5 million dollars into an arts center that may or may not be can you imagine what we could have done with that? We could have built some schools. We could have done something with library structures. We could have done any number of things. But rather than do that, whomever was representing the city in terms of asking for what we needed, didn't step in and say, "Hey wait a minute."
Can Potts muster the 15 percent he needs [in at least two polls] to participate in the Oct. 9 debate?
[Laughs.] I think Larry [Sabato] was very clever in doing that to get to everybody.
Do you think the candidates are putting forth the kinds of issues that are going to drive people to the polls?
I don't think so. Right now I think it's partisan driven. I think people will vote for the Democrat or vote for the Republican - or give the independent a chance to make his case. In terms of an issue that people say, 'Look, this guy is for this and I'm going to be for that because that's where I stand.' I haven't heard those kinds of issues. And I don't know that they will be forthcoming.
For me, I'm asking the candidates the kinds of questions relative to the capital city. I can say I'm not speaking just for Richmond. I'm speaking for a whole bunch of people in the metropolitan area who want the city to look good and to prosper. I'm not interested in taking anything from anyone else. The better Richmond looks, the better it is for Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, Amelia, Goochland, New Kent, Charles City all of them benefit from Richmond's being benefited. To the extent that we grow; they grow.
A whole lot of people are watching to see who you lend support to. And your endorsement has helped previous gubernatorial candidates get elected. Do you think your position could be undermined or considered anything other than totally relevant to the race?
As I've said, people make platitudinous pitches, such as, 'I'm going to do this for transportation,' recognizing that anyone living in Northern Virginia is looking for anyway to get at least 15 minutes less on the road. Or in Southwest Virginia or rural areas, they'll say, 'We're going to bring some jobs.' OK, I'm not knocking those things. But what about the city? What do you hear the candidates saying about the city? Nothing, nada, zilch. That's not good enough for me. S
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