Wilder Slept Here 

What better way to kick off a new year than with a tribute to one of Richmond's most popular, successful and effective mayors, L. Douglas Wilder.

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Some people live in Richmond. For others, it's only a dream. Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell is among the dreamers.

Exactly three years ago, on Jan. 14, McDonnell was sworn into office, the trajectory of his political career bringing him closer than ever to making his dreams come true. Someday, he would call Richmond his home.

After his election to the House of Delegates in 1991, the Republican from Virginia Beach got a Richmond post office box and an office in which to conduct state business. He got to travel here for General Assembly sessions, too. So close, yet so far. By the time his tires felt the grit of Virginia Beach sand they'd long left behind Richmond's cobblestones. The Sauer's vanilla breeze was but a faint olfactory memory, replaced by salt in the air.

Then in 2005 Virginia voters agreed with McDonnell's pitch that he should inch closer to the capital city. He won a down-to-the-wire election against Democratic Sen. R. Creigh Deeds for the office of attorney general. Naturally, he celebrated here at a Shockoe Slip restaurant, the Hard Shell, with friends, family members and campaign volunteers.

Like a first kiss under the moonlight on Monument Avenue, it was all too fleeting. McDonnell's return address had yet to read Richmond, and he'd never be able to say he was part of the 80 percent of voters that a year earlier had swept former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder into office as mayor. How he loved Wilder.

For his new job, McDonnell moved to Glen Allen, where he lives today. While he waits for the ZIP code of his dreams, he makes do with 23059. Sure, he may get to work downtown. But when his day ends his driver must take him nearly 20 miles west to Wyndham, in Henrico County near the Hanover County line, while he watches his beloved city from the rearview mirror of his state-provided 2005 Ford Explorer*. But the old house on the hill in the city still calls out.

If there ever were a year for McDonnell to make a resolution, this was it: 2009. The race to become governor was nigh. After all, the Executive Mansion is the closest residence to the marker denoting the ceremonial, cartographic center of the city.

Wilder slept here.

What better way to kick off a new year than with a tribute to one of Richmond's most popular, successful and effective mayors, L. Douglas Wilder. A kindred spirit. If McDonnell couldn't vote for him before, by golly, he'd show his support now, when it mattered, on Wilder's last day in office. Conveniently, McDonnell could also show Richmond voters he was one of them, even if he couldn't exactly vote in Richmond elections.

And that is how it came to be that on Dec. 31, a decree went out from the Office of the Attorney General, the most glowing of all two or three Wilder tributes — with a contact number for not one but two press secretaries ready to expound on the majestic 228-word statement that was in no way related to McDonnell's gubernatorial campaign:

“Mayor Wilder is to be congratulated for his lifetime of service to the Commonwealth [it's done, right?]. … Under Mayor Wilder's leadership Richmond has become a safer place to call home [and I will call it home too, darn it, even if Chief Monroe's in Charlotte]. … As the nation's first African American Governor, Wilder made history. He governed Virginia well during a period of economic difficulty [don't I know it — I had to cut my own salary!**], and ensured that the Commonwealth would be well positioned to benefit from economic recovery [at least the Explorer was nice for a while] … I congratulate Mayor Wilder for his service to our nation in the Korean War, to the Commonwealth of Virginia as a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and State Senator, and to the City of Richmond as Mayor. I also look forward to working with Mayor-Elect Dwight Jones as he builds upon the achievements of Mayor Wilder [Mayor Jones, just how can you possibly top the man?]. … Wilder has dedicated his life to public service, and his contributions to Virginia will long be remembered [please let him endorse me].”

Leadership. Service. Achievement. Contributions. African-American living legend. That is the Wilder that McDonnell knows and loves. Just like you, the Richmond voter. Like you, the Virginian who may have voted for Obama and just might consider a guy like McDonnell to help the Republican Party rise again in the commonwealth, led by principled, decisive leaders who are entrenched in the lives of their constituents. Take that, Terry McAuliffe and your listening tour.


* McDonnell used the state-leased 2005 Ford Explorer only for two years and nine months of his term, until September, when he realized the extent of the economic hardship and state layoffs that Virginia faced. And so he announced that he would give up that car for the remaining 15 months of his term, providing the state with a projected savings of more than $5,000. That's money in the bank!

** At the same time he gave up his state car, McDonnell decided to reduce his salary by 2 percent. And so, instead of a $150,000 salary, McDonnell will only make $143,000 a year for the next six months, thus saving the commonwealth $1,500, or $250 a month. And it's all completely voluntary! S

Jason Roop is editor of Style Weekly.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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