City of the Future Braces for Turbulence 

Lucky us: Paul Goldman is talking to himself again.

Amid the political jockeying that led Mayor L. Douglas Wilder to nix renovated schools from his much-touted $300 million City of the Future, Goldman — his longtime political consultant, former sidekick and mayoral adviser — hit the local media circuit last week with a new message.

If the political bickering doesn't stop, Goldman says, he promises to take to the streets and petition to change the city charter to guarantee that schools get first priority when it comes to capital improvements in Richmond.

"It came to me after talking it over in my mind. And I said to myself, 'OK, what happens if they all stick to what they say?'" Goldman says of his epiphany. "If they are not going to do it, then there is only one option left."

Indeed, Wilder was expected to present his first-round City of the Future projects this week (Style went to press before City Council's Jan. 15 meeting). But barring a stunning reversal, it seemed unlikely that the dozen or more city schools originally included in the plan would suddenly regain priority in Wilder's proposal.

And that leaves council with the prospect of voting on individual projects without having the full plan to evaluate.

"This will be the first part of the biggest capital spending initiative that the city has had in many years, maybe ever, so if you miss on this one you may not have another chance," cautions City Councilman Bill Pantele, who was recently elected council president. "We'll look at the proposed projects singly and together."

The capital-improvement budget approved last year, however, was mostly for school improvements, Pantele says, so the mayor would have to introduce "amendments to the plan" to spend that money differently. City Council may also initiate its own public hearings on Wilder's plan, says Pantele — something that hasn't happened before.

"It would be beyond belief that there would be a quarter-billion-dollar blank check written," Pantele says.

As for a charter change proposal, the 11,000 signatures needed to place one on the ballot in November aren't out of the question, says Goldman, who engineered the petition drive that ushered in the city's first popularly elected mayor since reconstruction.

"It's not like we have an option," Goldman says. "If you seriously want to help the children of the city of Richmond, you need to build some new schools." S

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