Thursday, January 17, 2008

Doug 'Squirrelly' Wilder

Today is Mayor L. Douglas Wilder’s birthday; he’s 77.

This week the Atlanta Braves gave him a birthday present -- now he no longer has to worry about cobbling together a deal to keep them from pulling their Triple A baseball team out of Richmond. On Monday the news broke that after this coming season, the Richmond Braves will become the Gwinnett Braves.

Now, if he can find the time, Doug Wilder must turn his attention to explaining what went wrong. He’s been so busy ducking questions about his battles with the school administration, his battles with City Council, his own office’s way of handling money, the Battery Park flood troubles, etc., that he may have to hire another squad of consultants to study the baseball issue.

Wilder has been a public figure in Richmond for a long time. After earning a reputation as a silver-tongued attorney, in 1969 Richmonders elected him to represent them in the General Assembly as a State Senator. Twenty years later Virginians elected him as their governor. Fifteen years later, he was elected as his home town’s mayor.

On the flipside, there was his aborted run for president, while he was the sitting governor. Then there was his aborted run for the U.S. Senate, as an Independent, in 1994. Then there was his accepting the presidency of Virginia Union University, and his changing his mind. Then, of course, there was his saying he would not run for mayor, when he combined with former Congressman Tom Bliley, to lead the move that allowed for the citywide election of a “strong mayor.”

Again, Wilder changed his mind; he had to because we needed him. Yes, in Richmond we have gotten used to Wilder’s quirky oblique moves.

We Richmonders have seen him dart into the middle of the road many a time, scurry back and forth like a squirrel, only to take off in another direction.

The plucky, sometimes mean Doug Wilder we know delights in being predictably unpredictable. So, disappointed, or not, we aren't all that surprised by his inability to pull the elements together and push through a deal with the Atlanta Braves, who own the Richmond Braves.

When he campaigned for mayor, Wilder pointed at the simmering problem of where to play baseball in Richmond as a matter he would quickly resolve. Upon taking office he scuttled a move to build a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, only to propose a more ridiculous location -- the former Fulton Gas Works site.

In the last week yet another new ballpark has been proposed, a smaller one than The Diamond, to be located a few blocks north of it.


Yes, you betcha, but we’ve grown accustomed to his ways.

Apparently, though, the management of the Atlanta Braves only grew weary of Wilder’s bloated rhetoric and his stalling for time. As they became more frustrated waiting for Wilder’s next reversal, it seems staying in Richmond became a dicey game they no longer wanted to play.

Richmonders may not like it, but blaming the Be-Wildered Braves ownership for how this has turned out is missing the mark. Still, hitting the mark won’t be so easy, either. After all, who knows which way our squirrelly 77-year-old mayor will run next?

-- 30 --

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Note: The local blogosphere is both churning with angst about, and chuckling at, this week's news about losing the R-Braves. Links to a sampling are below:

Dougie at the Bat” at Save Richmond
Brave Old World” (by Robert Ullman) at RVANews
Play Ball or Rebuild A City?” at Buttermilk & Molasses
Details of Braves sweetheart deal with Gwinnett released” at West of the Boulevard News
"I’ll Survive When the Braves Head Home" at P Keip's Hype
"A Brave-less New World" (by Pete Humes) at RVANews
"Wilder passes out trying to inflate his ego" at Tobacco Avenue

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