On a cool September morning last week, Paul Goldman paces in front of City Hall, peering around the corners, searching for the reporters. He's called a press conference for 11 a.m. to demand that City Council President Bill Pantele, who's also running for mayor, “come clean” on the weeks-long budget mess that's roiled City Hall.
For the master media hound, the lackluster turnout — not a single TV camera — might seem a bad omen, particularly considering that the person calling the press conference is running for mayor. But that doesn't faze the diminutive New Yorker with the thinning hair, colorful one-liners and multiple, daily e-mail blasts.
When someone finally does show (that would be this reporter) Goldman wastes no time launching into a breathless, scattershot agenda.
“What on earth is going on in these budget negotiations?” he muses. Put a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom? Bad idea. “I looked into it last time and helped kill it,” he says of the original proposal in 2005. (For about a year, he was Wilder's senior policy adviser at City Hall.) Oh, and there's the City of the Future plan he drafted in 2006, which still hasn't been enacted. Did he mention that he thinks Bill Pantele's proposed downtown circulator, a multimillion-dollar trolley system, is a big, expensive farce?
It's easy to dismiss Goldman. His retail skills — the often-disheveled appearance and not-from-these-parts accent — are, well, lacking. But he has a whiz-bang political intellect and many specific plans to fix the city that, if anyone's listening, just might resonate after a tumultuous three and a half years of King Wilder.
And two years ago, running for City Council in the well-to-do 1st District, he placed third in a close five-way race, surprising just about everyone.
Goldman has masterminded so many political campaigns and come-from-behind victories, including Wilder's historic runs for lieutenant governor in 1985 and then governor in 1989, that running for mayor seems too easy.
Except now he's the candidate.
Goldman, 62, is the consummate underdog. While in college in the 1960s, he helped Dan Walker become governor of Illinois, and in 1968 volunteered on Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign. (Goldman slept in the same California hotel a few days before Kennedy was assassinated.)
After earning his law degree and a master's in public administration from Syracuse University in 1972, Goldman spent a year and a half working as a volunteer in the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, and then took a job chief lawyer of the New Jersey Department of Consumer Protection in 1973.
A year later Goldman left New Jersey to join Hugh Carey's campaign for governor of New York, and quickly earned a reputation as a deft strategist.
After Carey won the general election, Goldman was on his way to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for a vacation when a friend in Virginia asked him to stop by on the way down. He had someone he wanted Goldman to meet: Henry Howell. Goldman later got a job managing Howell's unsuccessful run for governor in 1976, then got a job as a campaign consultant to Chuck Robb in 1981, where he met Wilder, who was in the state Senate at the time.
Goldman says it was he who told Wilder in 1982 to challenge Owen Pickett, the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate, as an independent. At the time, breaking from the Democratic Party was a potentially career-ending move. Instead, it changed the course of history, derailing Pickett's nomination and helping Wilder earn a reputation as a fearless renegade.
That Goldman is a master strategist and manipulator of the media has also been his Achilles heel. He's too smart not to know his chances of winning the mayoral election are a long shot — not enough pull in the majority black districts — but yet he stays in the race, poking and prodding, leaving observers to wonder what he's really up to. One week, he's attacking Bob Grey, the next it's Dwight Jones, and then, of course, Bill Pantele.
Leaning on his car, parked in front of St. Paul's Episcopal Church downtown last week, a maintenance worker from the church recognizes Paul from a wedding 14 years ago. He stops to shake his hand.
“I think you'd make a good mayor because you know the system,” the man says in a heavy, old Richmond drawl.
A brimming Goldman sees it as a sign. “You never would have thought that that would happen, right?” he says.