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The No-Newseum
Doug Wilder and The 'Burg: Can't we start over?

Date published: 6/18/2008

DOUG WILDER: He lost the Braves, now he wants the slaves. A bit crudely put, perhaps, but not devoid of truth. Former Gov. Wilder assumed the mayoralty of Richmond three years ago amid hosannas and high hopes. Promising a City of the Future, he enjoyed an early approval rating of around 90 percent. But the future didn't happen in Richmond; a whole lot of fussing did.

Fussing between Hizzoner and City Council. Between Hizzoner and the School Board. Between Hizzoner and respected civic leaders. The Wilder Way, indeed, seemed one of 24/7 unproductive conflict. By last fall, Richmonders were giving their mayor, who isn't seeking re-election, 35 percent approval, suggesting they prefer watching buzzer-to-buzzer contentions performed not by politicians but athletes. Alas, soon there will be fewer of the latter: In a painful symbol of the futility of the Wilder administration, the Richmond Braves, the AAA baseball team that has called the city home for 42 years, announced they will be leaving town at this season's end.

Mr. Wilder, who made history in one way as the nation's first elected black governor, would like to make it in another--by establishing his brainchild, a national slavery museum, in Fredericksburg. Beyond his abiding genuine passion for the project, Mr. Wilder, 77, undoubtedly seeks to wind up his remarkable public career with a prestigious triumph--not the belly flop he executed at 900 E. Broad St.

Fredericksburg should help him. A National Slavery Museum, done well, would expand and enrich the epic story of which the area's Civil War battlefields are one dramatic part. Our town's prestige would also rise, as would, to speak lewdly, its revenues. But the city should further assist the museum only if Mr. Wilder shows due deference to townspeople, who are being asked to subsidize the facility and who will bear the consequences of its operation.

"Either you want the museum here or you don't," Mr. Wilder last week told City Council in seeking tens of thousands of dollars in real-estate tax exemptions. Mr. Wilder evidently likes clarifying formulations. Very well. Let him try this one on for size: Either treat Fredericksburg with respect or don't. But if you don't, you're on your own.


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