It was hailed as a step toward more democracy when the change was implemented.
Ten years later, about 80 percent of the votes cast in a citywide plebiscite selected Richmond’s first mayor by a direct vote of the people since the late-1940s. Mayor Doug Wilder had led the fight to change the city charter to allow for that direct vote ... later he surprised few observers when he decided to become a candidate for the job he had done more than anyone else to create.
Given the chance to register their sentiments, it seems that four out of five Richmonders prefer their democracy poured straight, rather than watered down by the appointment process.
Now, three years later, it seems the mercurial Mayor Wilder has lost his faith in the will of the people. Now, in 2007, we see the third prong of Wilder’s battle plan to punish and control a recalcitrant Richmond School Board -- in a recent letter some of his wealthiest and most influential allies from the business community called for school boards to go back to being appointed, rather than elected.
Now, given Wilder’s history of being obsessed with payback and changing his mind at the drop of a hat, we can see that even in his golden years his vindictiveness is trumping all else.
Wilder, probably the most talented Richmond politician of the last half-century, is good at identifying malfeasance and boondoggles. He came down on the ballpark in Shockoe Bottom bad idea like a tons of bricks. But then he turned around and wanted to put the thing in a worse location, to bolster a development on the river he favors. To date, the issues of building a better baseball stadium and keeping the Braves in Richmond remain up in the air.
Wilder also put the kibosh on the Virginia Performing Arts Center’s terrible execution of a terrible plan. Then, after a lot of bluster, he turned around and approved of a plan that looks a lot like a watered down version of the original one.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending the Richmond School Board’s record. However, not all of Richmond’s schools are underachieving. Some are and that needs fixing. But is evicting the School Board from City Hall a way to make those schools any better?
Or, big smiles aside, is it just more meanness from a guy who is damn good at being mean?
When will Mayor Wilder solve some problems, instead of merely pointing out blame? When will he use his considerable powers of persuasion to calm things down, foster cooperation and bring real progress to the City of Richmond?