|The mayor-elect on election night 2004|
My guess is Wilder woke up one morning, looked out his window and saw a circus passing. It was a line of Richmond's mayoral hopefuls that went on, and on. His first thought was – that circus needs a ringmaster! In other words, the Doug Wilder that Richmonders of all ages and persuasions have learned to have strong feelings about – one way or another – still can't resist jumping into the fray.
So he invited all of the declared and supposed mayoral candidates to subject themselves to questions and of course -- a bunch of free exposure. Why wouldn't the media turn out to cover the circus?
Bob Holsworth acted as Wilder's faithful sidekick, as the headliner didn't hesitate to assert his point of view on several occasions, although he sometimes cloaked his commentary in the form of questions. All in all, Wilder was roughest on the three candidates who are currently serving on City Council -- Jon Baliles, Chris Hilbert and Michelle Mosby.
The crowd on hand was lively. There were several times when the attendees laughed or hooted. The two biggest crowd reactions came from remarks by Joe Morrissey and Chad Ingold. They both got laughs for timely quips. Alan Schintzius also provoked a few good chuckles. Most of the others played it pretty straight. Maybe a few of them would have been better off loosening up a bit, but it was the first forum. We'll see how the circus evolves.
The most interesting moment of the night happened like this: During the Lighting Round candidates were asked a series of six or seven questions, the last of which inquired about whether they were for or against removing any of the statues memorializing Confederate heroes from Monument Avenue. Stonewall Jackson was offered as an example. (This question interested me, in particular, since I've recently written about it.)
Alan Schintzius dodged the question by saying the people ought to decide. Or, maybe he was really calling for a referendum. The last one to answer was Chad Ingold, who said, "Bring your own hammer!" It seemed Ingold was more than ready to lend a hand to the work crew to start dismantling statues, tomorrow.
The crowd erupted. Laughter, cheers and boos. Wilder promptly sang, softly, but right dead into the microphone, "If I had a hammer..."
Yes, Wilder was using a line out of a Pete Seeger folk song (as popularized by Peter Paul and Mary). The ringmaster sang on key and he got a laugh from those who caught it. Then the moment passed. I was amazed at how deftly the man could still steer a spontaneous crowd reaction to what another person had said to his own advantage ... for those who noticed.
To sum up I'm assigning a grade to all 12 of the folks who answered the call to appear on Wilder's stage as candidates, or in Hilbert's case – a guy still thinking about it.
The grades assigned are meant to characterize how well they represented themselves. Which means the quality of the content of what they said, and how clearly they made their points. That, and their quickness on their feet, their poise, and so forth. For this post I'm not going to get into who might be the most qualified candidates. Nor am I going to speculate about who stands a better, or worse, chance of winning.
No one scored an “A.” None of those who endured the inquisition knocked the ball out of the park. As well, no one earned an “F” for totally embarrassing themselves. They are listed in what I hope is alphabetical order:
- Four earned a “B.” They are: Jon Baliles, Jack Berry, Chad Ingold and Joe Morrissey.
- Four earned a “C.” They are: Lillie Estes, Michelle Mosby, Alan Schintzius and Rick Tatnall.
- Four earned a “D.” They are: Brad Froman, Chris Hilbert, Bruce Tyler and Lawrence Williams.